The Knesset voted down a bill that would allow Israelis to choose between civil and religious marriage yesterday, sparking more controversy regarding current laws regarding marriage and divorce in the country.

The bill, sponsored by Nitzan Horowitz of the Meretz party, would allow Israelis to contravene the Jewish Law that serves as the basis for marriage in Israel and instead marry in whatever manner they choose, including a non-religious civil marriage or that of a different religion altogether.  According to Horowitz, “”Israel is the only democracy in the world where Jews don’t have freedom of religion.  There are currently hundreds of thousands of Israelis who are considered without religion and cannot marry in Israel.”

The vote was attended by several couples wishing to marry in a civil ceremony.  MK Orit Zuaretz who spoke and railed against Jewish marriage insisting that she was being forced to be religious in order to marry, wore a wedding gown and veil but was asked to remove the veil.  She claimed that the bill was not aimed at destroying tradition, but was to ensure that people who cannot marry according to Jewish Law can do so.  However, Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman rejected her statement, saying that the bill is in fact in contravention of Halacha.  He also stressed the issue of illegitimate children, an issue the Rabbinical court wishes to avoid.  Neeman also countered the argument by citing the Civil Union Law, which currently performs the same function as the proposed law.

The vote on Wednesday was part of a campaign by several organizations antagonistic to the Chief Rabbinate who wish to eliminate the Rabbinate’s role in family life.  During the vote, the NGO Hiddush Movement for Jewish Freedom and Equality released statistics from a study conducted by two Ben Gurion University researchers that showed 66% of Israelis being in favor of a civil marriage option with one third saying they prefer a civil marriage over a Halachik one.

Both Horowitz and Zuaretz said after the vote, which was 41-16 against, that they would be taking the issue to the High Court in an attempt to overrule the Knesset vote.