Written by: Samara Becker
Starting November 2020, Utah began allowing marriages fully online, via Zoom. These online weddings began during the Covid-19 pandemic, where traveling was impossible. These virtual weddings may have been created for couples who could not travel to one another to get married, but in Israel, a country where civil marriage doesn’t exist and many locals and foreign citizens can’t get married, these Israeli zoom weddings have a much greater significance.
Why Utah over all the other 49 states in the US?
While most states in the US do not allow for marriages where one or both individuals being married are not present, Utah does. In Utah, only the officiant of the marriage or one of the individuals must be present in Utah, while the other parties involved may be anywhere, even abroad. “Utah marriages” surfaced as a solution for housebound Utah couples during the pandemic who still wanted to get married. When the pandemic began, these zoom marriages gave people a way to still get married, despite being unable to travel to their future spouses. Utah marriages are extremely progressive, too progressive in the eyes of some religious countries, such as Israel, where family law is governed by religious law.
How would someone get married online in Utah?
The first step to these online marriages is obtaining a marriage license. Usually, this marriage license needs to be received in person, but Utah has made an exception for this. To get a marriage license for a zoom wedding in Utah, you do not need to go in person. To get a marriage license, both individuals need to give their name, address, social security number, date of birth, and the name and addresses of both of their parents. Both individuals also need to show pictures of their license or passport. Once software programs authenticate these submitted documents, both individuals sign the marriage license, stating that there is nothing legally prohibiting the marriage. Once the couple has a marriage license, it is now time for the fun part: the marriage ceremony. At the online ceremony, there must be a registered officiant and two witnesses over the age of 18. After the ceremony, the marriage certificate needs to be signed. A digital, certified copy of the marriage license will then be given, completing the process, and a printed copy will be sent to the individuals.
What do “Utah marriages” mean for Israeli’s?
These Utah virtual marriages are a huge difference for the people of Israel. Since the only ceremonies legal in Israel are religious ceremonies, many citizens of Israel are unable to be legally married. These instances include couples where one individual is Jewish but the other is not, when both parties are Jewish but one individual is classified as a mamzer, or if a Kohen wishes to marry a Jewish-women who has been previously divorced. Further, same-sex couples are unable to get married in Israel, along with an Israeli and a foreigner. If couples such as these want to get married, they would have to travel overseas, to countries such as Cyprus where civil marriage is recognized and is a popular destination for couples who wish to marry in Israel, but can’t. However, traveling abroad might be impossible for some couples. Citizens of Israel were overjoyed at the thought of these Utah marriage ceremonies if Israel would recognize them as legal. This is where the true legal battle began.
What does Israeli law say about foreign marriages?
According to both Israeli law and the Interior Ministry regulations, the Population and Immigration Authority is required to register marriages that occurred in a foreign country, as long as the marriage followed the laws in that country. Further, the marriage certificate had to be given in the foreign country, with authentication. While Utah marriages followed all of these requirements, Israelis ran into a problem. The Interior Ministry was refusing to recognize Utah marriages that Israeli citizens had, even though all the necessary documents were provided. Due to this refusal, appeals were made to the Israeli Supreme Court, as citizens were extremely angry. Before the large petition to the Supreme Court was made, in the Jerusalem District Court another appeal was in progress. The organization Hiddush, a group that believes in religious freedom and equality, brought their concerns about not being able to marry online to the district court. In October 2022, this case was ruled on, in favor of Hiddush. This verdict stated that the Interior Ministry had to register all marriages equally, including Utah online marriages, as long as there are no other obstacles standing in the way.
What did the Supreme Court decide?
On March 7, 2023, the Israeli Supreme Court came to a verdict that left citizens jumping for joy. The verdict stated that the Interior Ministry must register couples who get married via “Utah marriages”. This meant that Israeli couples no longer had to travel abroad to have civil ceremonies, helping thousands of couples who are unable to travel abroad to get married for various reasons. While advocates for civil marriages consider this ruling a huge triumph, those who support religious parties in Israel are very upset. They believe that the only marriages recognized in Israel should be religious ones, as any other marriages do not follow the religious laws correctly. This ruling was almost three years in the making, as Utah weddings via zoom began in November of 2020.
What does this verdict mean for Israel?
In the eyes of many, this Supreme Court verdict is a huge step towards a more progressive Israel. Many couples are overjoyed, planning their online marriages. To learn more about this situation and the steps that occurred to make this Supreme court verdict happen, visit our website, and contact us with any questions you may have.