Israel Marriage Law Reform: Here's Why Olympic Gold Medalist Artem Dolgopyat Can't Get Married

It has emerged that Israel's Artem Dolgopyat, who won gymnastics gold medal in Tokyo Olympics, can't marry in Israel. Artem's mother stoked controversy when she made this statement on Sunday, drawing attention to the civil marriage laws in Israel.

The State Won't Let Him Get Married

Artem won an Olympic gold medal in the finals of the men's floor exercise at the 2020 Tokyo Games on Sunday. As the country celebrated Artem's victory, his mother said that he cannot legally get married in his home country, as he is not Jewish by the standards of the Chief Rabbinate.

According to the The Jerusalem Post, his mother, Angela Bilan, is not Jewish, she told Radio 103FM, meaning her children are not Jewish. Artem's father is Jewish, she said. Angela said: "The state won't let him get married. He has a girlfriend and they have lived together for three years, but he cannot get married."

No Inter-faith Marriages Performed in Israel are Legally Recognized

Only religious marriages are performed in Israel. There are no provisions for civil marriages. As religious authorities will only authorise marriages between those belonging to the same religious community, parties of different religious affiliations cannot marry.

The religious authority for Jewish marriages performed in Israel is the Chief Rabbinate of Israel and the Rabbinical courts. Citizens can only marry through established religious institutions, such as the Chief Rabbinate, which will only marry members of the same religion.

Jewish couples must marry through the Chief Rabbinate, whereas Catholics, Druze and Muslims all marry through their own state-sanctioned and publicly funded religious legal systems.

According to The Times of Israel, getting married as a Jew through the Chief Rabbinate, the only possibility in Israel, requires that both parties be Jewish according to Orthodox practice — i.e., having a Jewish mother.

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Many Israeli Couples are Choosing to Register Their Marriages Abroad

As Israel has no civil marriage, a growing number of Israeli couples are choosing to register their marriages abroad. Some 9,000 couples every year register civil marriages performed abroad with the Population and Immigration Authority. However, such couples have not been able to travel abroad during the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving many without recourse.

Angela said it was difficult for Artem to travel because of the demanding requirements of his training.

Social Media Reactions

There was an outrage on Twitter over this issue. Many people said that the law is backward and unacceptable. One Twitter user wrote, "Israel needs reform. The factions and constant infighting means that to govern you need the far right/Haredim/Hasidim to get anything done. Ignore the fact he's an Olympian. He's a human in love who wants to marry. Civil marriage won't ruin Israel."

Another wrote, "The grotesque stranglehold of obscene and racist religious rule in Israel must be broken." One internet user said, "It's a shame. We ask for tolerance and don't give it to others."

On the other hand, few netizens believed that it's not a big deal. One Twitter user wrote, "Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and many other countries in the ME don't have civil marriages. Don't hear anyone complaining about that. Of course, as always different standards for Israel."

One internet user said, "It's fine to work towards change if you believe that's what's right, but it is wrong to complain about how the country done him wrong since he's completely free to leave and find a "better" place to live."