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March 23: Israel Legalizes Homosexuality

Lawrence Bush
March 22, 2017
Same-sex lovemaking was legalized by the Israeli Knesset on this date in 1988, overturning a law against “sodomy” that had been unenforced since 1963. While same-sex marriages are still not performed by the rabbinate in Israel, those sanctified elsewhere have legal status in the country, and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation has been outlawed since 1992. For nearly a decade, same-sex couples have also been allowed to adopt children, but they have to wait in line behind heterosexual couples. Tel Aviv has a reputation as a very LGBTQ-positive city (certainly the most liberated zone in the entire Middle East), Jerusalem far less so; in 2016, for example, Jerusalem’s Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar, former chief Sephardic rabbi of the entire country, denounced homosexuality as “an abomination” and declined to attend the memorial service for Shira Banki, a teenage girl who had been stabbed to death by an ultra-Orthodox man during Jerusalem’s Gay Pride parade. Five pro-LGBTQ bills, known as the “Shira Banki Bills,” were then vetoed by the Netanyahu government. These bills would have included government recognition of civil unions, a ban on “conversion therapy” for minors, and a requirement that medical students be educated about sexual orientation. In a 2015 survey to establish a “Gay Happiness Index,” involving over 115,000 gay men in 127 countries, Israel ranked 7th in the world (Iceland topped the list). “If Israel is a haven for the LGBT community, it’s because of the community, the organizations that are working very hard to make it a good place for LGBT people to live. It’s not because of the government policies. It’s in spite of the government policies.” --Mike Hamel, Israeli activist

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.