Recognition of Utah marriage — Now it’s official (Legal information)
An appeal to the Jerusalem court led to the official recognition of Utah marriages, which are civil marriages conducted through online virtual conferences and which can be conducted remotely. The result of this legal precedent is that couples can now marry using this method, and then have their marriage officially registered in Israel. This legal precedent and its ramifications are explained in this article by attorney Joshua Pex, a partner in our firm and an expert in family law and registration of civil marriages in Israel.
Civil marriage in Israel is no longer a distant dream
For many years, couples wishing to get married in a civil marriage could not do so within Israel’s borders, as only religious ceremonies are legal within Israel. Such couples had to leave Israel and get married overseas in a country that allows them to do so, such as Cyprus, the Czech Republic and Georgia. Many couples who lacked the financial resources, or who faced other limitations (such as a physical disability or a stay of exit order) preventing them from leaving the territory of Israel, could not realize their dream of marrying as they wished.
The situation has now officially changed, following the precedent set by the Administrative Affairs Court in Jerusalem which ruled that any couple who wishes to marry in a civil marriage, without leaving the country’s territory, will now be able to do so. The creative path towards civil marriage within Israel involves conducting a marriage ceremony in a virtual conference with a marriage officiant in the state of Utah in the United States. At the time of writing, about 600 Israeli couples have already been married in Utah marriages, including interracial couples, LGBT couples and more. Below we will explain the story behind the legal precedent that explicitly recognized these types of marriages and the dramatic consequences regarding the possibility of de facto civil marriages in Israel.
Background to the appeal
The law in the state of Utah allows couples in the United States or outside of it to marry in the territory of the state by virtual conference (that is, in an online video call, conducted using applications such as Zoom). According to Israeli law and the Interior Ministry regulations, the Population and Immigration Authority must register marriages conducted in a foreign country, provided that they were conducted according to the foreign country’s law, and that a certificate issued in the foreign country and legally authenticated (usually with an apostille stamp) was presented to the Authority’s officials.
The appeal was filed following the Interior Ministry’s refusal to recognize several marriages conducted online in Utah, even though all the necessary documents were presented. On this basis, several administrative appeals were filed in court. One of the appeals, which was brought before the Court of Administrative Affairs in Lod, resulted in a ruling in favor of the appellants who were married in a Utah marriage in July 2022. However, these appeals dealt with specific cases. While these appeals were being heard, another appeal was brought before the Jerusalem District Court. This appeal was a matter of principle, in the sense that it was filed by the organization Hiddush, which represents a broad group of citizens interested in religious freedom and equality, and not just specific couples. Accordingly, the subject of the appeal was broad and forward-looking.
The Jerusalem Court of Administrative Affairs’ ruling and its ramifications
The ruling on the appeal by Hiddush, which dealt with Utah marriages in a general and broad sense, was made in October 2022. The court ruled that the Interior Ministry’s reasons for refusing to register the marriages, on the grounds that they took place in Israel, with neither spouse travelling abroad, are not valid. Given the obligation to treat all couples who wish to register their marriage equally, Utah marriages must be recognized, as long as there is no other legal impediment to them being registered. This ruling has dramatic ramifications. It provides a creative and innovative solution for couples who wish to be registered as married in Israel, without having to physically leave the country’s borders in order to conduct a civil marriage in a foreign country. Although it is still possible that this ruling will be appealed in the Supreme Court, or that additional legal issues will arise, at this point in time the path has already been paved for couples to have their Utah marriages officially recognized by the State of Israel. We will continue to monitor developments on the subject, if they arise, and post updates about it on our website.
Contact an attorney specializing in family law and marriage registration in Israel
In this article, we explained the ruling which led to the recognition of Utah marriages becoming customary in the State of Israel. If you have any additional questions or need advice or assistance on the matter, you can contact us and an attorney specializing in family law and marriage registration in Israel will be happy to help. Our firm regularly deals with a variety of issues in the field of family law, including marriage registration and legal representation before the courts and authorities, as well as comprehensive legal assistance in procedures to obtain legal status for foreign couples in Israel.