JERUSALEM — In a landmark ruling, Israel's Supreme Court ordered the government yesterday to recognize same-sex marriages performed abroad.
The lone dissenter on the seven-judge panel was an observant Jew, highlighting the controversy the decision immediately touched off among fervently Orthodox Jews and other conservative groups in Israel.
Efforts by Israel's gay community to win approval for same-sex marriage, a key issue in America and Europe, face a major obstacle because Israel's religious authorities have a monopoly over marriage and divorce.
Yossi Ben-Ari and Laurent Schuman were married in Canada after that country legalized same-sex marriage in 2003. Determined after a 21-year partnership to enjoy all the privileges of a married couple in Israel, they were among five couples who petitioned the Supreme Court to have their marriage registered here, too.
"We're delighted, but the struggle is not over," Mr. Ben-Ari said.
A legal expert, Moshe Negbi, said the court's decision is mostly symbolic because gay couples in Israel already had many of the rights of heterosexual partnerships. The significant changes are that they will now get the same tax breaks as a married couple and be able to adopt children, Mr. Negbi said.
Israeli law stipulates a couple must be married to adopt a child.
"The marriages of same-sex couples who marry in places like Canada where the law recognizes such marriages, will also be recognized in Israel, and they will be registered as married here," he said.
Civil marriages cannot be performed in Israel because of the rabbinate's monopoly on family law. But couples married in civil ceremonies abroad have all the rights of a married couple, and their marriages are registered here. The court uses the term "register" instead of "recognition" to avoid religious criticism of the ruling, Mr. Negbi said.
"The court says that now, not only heterosexuals, but homosexuals, too, can have civil marriages," Mr. Negbi added.
The word game did not pacify the fervently Orthodox community, which was infuriated by the ruling. "We don't have a Jewish state here. We have Sodom and Gomorrah here," a fervently Orthodox lawmaker, Moshe Gafni, said.
"I assume that every sane person in the state of Israel, possibly the entire Jewish world, is shocked, because the significance is ... the destruction of the family unit in the state of Israel," Mr. Gafni told Israel's Army Radio.