Israel must recognize marriages performed online through Utah County portal
Israeli Supreme Court ruled Interior Ministry could not refuse to recognize weddings that didn’t go through Chief Rabbinate
When former Utah County Clerk Amelia Powers Gardner decided to move marriage licensing online, she was trying to make her office’s processes more efficient.
Turns out that she also helped change the marriage laws in Israel.
Jewish Insider this week wrote that Gardner, who is now a county commissioner, “ended up fixing things for citizens well beyond the borders of Utah County” — starting with the entirely virtual wedding licensing and moving to actual virtual weddings.
The Israel Supreme Court this month “ruled unanimously that the government must recognize the marriages of more than 1,000 Israeli couples who have used the virtual service” offered in Utah County.
The Israel Supreme Court decision marks a big change, because when Israeli Jews want to marry, they have to go through the country’s Chief Rabbinate, with its rules and religious guidelines. Those who want a civil ceremony have to find a way to have a service performed elsewhere.
“Many went to nearby Cyprus, creating an entire cottage industry of wedding tourism. Some have even chartered boats to go just far enough off Israel’s coast to exchange vows in international waters,” Jewish Insider reported.
The Times of Israel reported that “some 1,200 Israeli couples have been through Utah’s online marriage registration process since 2020,” quoting Vlad Finkelstein, one of the attorneys representing couples who sued to have their marriages recognized by their country.
The article said that Israel’s Interior Ministry, challenged on its decision not to recognize civil marriages performed elsewhere, had a couple of years ago published its opinion that “since the couples were located in Israel at the time of their marriages, Israeli law applies to them and their marriages were therefore invalid.”
Petitions were filed by Israeli couples in both the Lod District Court and the Jerusalem District Court. In both, the courts ruled for the petitioners. The Interior Ministry appealed to the Israeli Supreme Court, and lost.
Now couples can just use the internet to reach the Utah County marriage license portal.
Other reasons to wed online
The New York Times reported two years ago, “Utah Is a Destination Wedding Hot Spot, No Travel Required.” The article said that “since May 2020, the Utah County clerk and auditor’s office in Provo has performed virtual weddings for more than 3,500 international couples, including brides and grooms from Azerbaijan, China, Estonia, Finland, Denmark, France, Guam, Iceland, Kenya and Madagascar.”
Many of the marriages reportedly involve couples who were kept apart by the pandemic and its related travel restrictions.
The New York Times said that “the virtual marriage process offered by Utah County has been a lifeboat in the midst of the pandemic, which caused many countries to close their borders to noncitizens in March 2020. Though travel restrictions have shifted and evolved since then, the United States currently bans entry to most travelers from China, Iran, Brazil, India, Britain, the Republic of Ireland, South Africa and much of Europe.”
The article said couples wed virtually to bypass travel restrictions. “A marriage certificate enables partners to apply for visas and to cross borders even when they’re closed to most visitors.”
Same-sex couples have also used the Utah County portal to tie the knot. The Washington Post reported that couples in places like China, where same-sex marriage is not legal, have married through the portal, even in cases where they know their country might not recognize the marriage.
The Post wrote in October 2022 that Utah County Deputy Clerk Ben Frei, for instance, had already performed “dozens of same-sex marriages for LGBTQ couples from China.” The article said same-sex couples from a diverse collection of countries, including Russia and the Philippines, have married over Zoom with a Utah County officiant.
“I was very happy that we could find a way for people to be able to legitimize their families. I feel that the family is the basic unit of society, and the fact that government would interfere with people creating families, forming families, solemnizing families, was very disturbing to me,” Powers Gardner recently told Jewish Insider.