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A court in Israel recognizes online civil marriages as valid

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Want to get married on Zoom? Utah offers that option. And hundreds of couples have Zoomed in from Israel, where civil marriage is banned. Now an Israeli court has ruled those Utah marriages are valid. NPR's Daniel Estrin reports from Tel Aviv.

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: Israel does not recognize interfaith or same-sex weddings or even Jewish weddings that are not orthodox. But there's a loophole. Israel will register marriages performed abroad. So for years, many Israeli couples have traveled abroad to get married. Then came the COVID pandemic and travel restrictions. But Sapir Zeelon (ph) and her future wife, Gili (ph), learned they could get married by video conference through Utah, a state she didn't know much about.

SAPIR ZEELON: Just that it's not a very liberal state (laughter). So I was kind of surprised. I think it's somewhere in the south of the U.S. No, actually, I'm not sure now.

ESTRIN: Eh, it didn't matter. They were in Israel. And their officiant was in Provo. Utah started allowing Zoom ceremonies right before the pandemic. And since then, hundreds of Israeli couples have taken advantage. But when it hit the news in Israel, the country stopped registering the Utah's Zoom marriages. Officials argued they were performed in Israel, not in Utah.

ZEELON: It's kind of an emotional rollercoaster for us because my wife is pregnant. And the due date is in two months.

ESTRIN: And she needs to be registered as married so she can get Israel's parental leave benefits. She joined other couples who challenged Israel's ban in court. This week, the court said Utah marriage licenses are valid. Sagi Agmon argued the case in court on behalf of the religious freedom organization Hiddush.

SAGI AGMON: Hopefully it will also start a movement that would force our politicians to accept the fact that Israelis are no longer willing to succumb to this coercion.

ESTRIN: One of the Israelis in the lawsuit, Maria Verbova (ph), had to move abroad with her non-Jewish husband because Israel wouldn't recognize their Utah Zoom marriage, and he couldn't legally work in the country.

MARIA VERBOVA: Like, I just lost my trust.

ESTRIN: And despite this ruling, she doesn't have any hope Israel is really any closer to allowing more couples to get married without needing these loopholes. Finance Minister Avigdor Lieberman called on authorities not to appeal the court ruling. He said recognizing Utah's Zoom weddings is, quote, "a step toward a liberal country based on the values of live and let live."

Daniel Estrin, NPR News, Tel Aviv.

(SOUNDBITE OF FELBM'S "MAKTENE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Daniel Estrin is NPR's international correspondent in Jerusalem.