People-Powered Social Revolution in Israel Promotes Rights of Same-Sex Families
Social acceptance of same-sex families in Israel has been a revolution driven by people not politicians, says Irit Rosenblum.
Legislators react. They don’t enact. A politician who declares a revolution is actually just announcing the phenomenon that he seeks to legislate can no longer be ignored. The real changes are made by people, by society, by individual choices and actions, not by political statements or election propaganda. The legislator simply updates the law to reflect the changes that the people have already made a reality through individual acts of autonomy and self-expression. This is the true meaning of “creating facts on the ground.” Laws don’t shape society; society shapes the law.
This month, Israel’s Health Minister Yael German announced plans to legalize surrogacy for same-sex couples in Israel, saving same-sex couples and singles that need the help of surrogate mothers to have children expensive and time-consuming medical processes abroad. Four separate civil union bills have been proposed in the first weeks of the Knesset winter session, and indeed, there is a feeling that a point of no-return has been reached. Yet, it is important to realize that legislation won’t enable Israelis who can’t or choose not to wed through the Rabbinate to live together, or to use surrogacy; they are already doing it in record numbers. Legislation must be passed to legalize situations that are already reality, because the absence of such laws is simply an injustice against the citizens.
The Israeli politician is the last in the chain of social change. The legislator does not enact the revolution; he or she only confirms its existence. The true role of the legislator is to bridge the gap between reality and the law. When politicians declare the need for change, we know that the change is already here, and the change was made by us. The legislator should observe the changes society goes through, the demographic changes it experiences, and propose legislation that responds to the changing reality.
Yesterday’s inconceivable reality is tomorrow’s accepted reality. Just two decades ago, new types of families had no name in Hebrew. Single-parent, same-sex, and common-law families barely penetrated public consciousness, much less the Hebrew lexicon. But when these new types of families asserted themselves in the public sphere, an appropriate name was chosen and assimilated into the language, and legislation guaranteeing them status and rights followed.
Changes in the face of the Israeli family have been in full swing for 20 years, and at an accelerated pace since I started New Family Organization in 1998. Some 18,000 same-sex families, once pariahs, came out of the proverbial closet, live proud lives, raise children together and live in near legal equality. Over 100,000 single-parent families, who once occupied society’s margins, are on their feet. Hundreds of thousands of loving couples live together without asking approval from the religious establishment, when in the past, the expectation of religious marriage was so strong that this freedom was rarely exercised.
In 1879, Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, who revived the Hebrew language, first made the incredible claim that because there is no nation without a common language, that the rebirth of the Jewish state would take place in Israel, using the Hebrew language. At the time, resurrecting a language that hadn’t been spoken in 2,000 years must have seemed inconceivable. More than a century later, it’s impossible to imagine Israel without Hebrew. Likewise, though just twenty years ago, the social expectation of a heterosexual conventional family norm seemed uncompromising, it’s impossible to imagine contemporary Israel without its diversity of families. The process of evolution in which these new types of families crossed from the margins of society to its mainstream is the true revolution. The revolution consists of thousands of individual acts of love, of forbidden couples uniting, of children born of love, and of families formed. This revolution was not heralded by politicians, but powered by challenging prejudices, breaking conventions, and shattering paradigms.