Guy Sadaka and Hai Aviv were preparing to enroll their 2-year-old twins in preschool in Tel Aviv. The program is subsidized by the government, so the couple, who have been together for 12 years, applied with the Ministry of Labor and Social Services for tuition assistance. But the agent who answered the phone on Wednesday told the two men that one of them would have to declare himself the children’s “mother” on the paperwork, as first reported by the Israeli news site Ynet.
"I understand that you are both fathers and that you run a shared household, but there is always the one who is more dominant, who is more ‘the mother,’" the representative said, according to Sadaka. "I am just asking for a written statement declaring which of you is the mother. From the point of view of the work — who works less than the father? Like in a normal family.”
Sadaka, 33, said the agent was sympathetic but claimed her department was subject to archaic guidelines from the Ministry of Economy. “Don’t think about it too much,” she advised. “We are not going to investigate this, we are not going to check, we are only examining your eligibility.”
Aviv and Sadaka were both stunned by the absurdity of the request and shocked that they were being asked to lie to the government.
“It kind of made me laugh,” Sadaka told NBC News. “But this ignorance in a government office when it’s just about 2020 just seems crazy to me. I felt frustrated that I have to give answers that don’t make any sense.”
By Wednesday afternoon, the ministry had issued an apology, stating it was addressing the family’s case “immediately” and would be updating procedures with its call center to prevent similar incidents in the future.
“We emphasize that the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs’ practices explicitly treat all types of families and grant equal rights to all,” a representative said in a statement.
But Ohad Haski, director of Israeli LGBTQ organization Aguda, called the apology “insufficient.”
“Shame that even in 2019 discrimination against the gay community continues to exist in our government offices,” Haski told Ynet.
Israel is often praised as the most gay-friendly country in the Middle East, but LGBTQ people still face significant hurdles in building families: Same-sex marriage is still not legally recognized and, until 2017, gay couples were only allowed to adopt children who were older or had special needs. From 2008 to 2017, when the Israeli government announced opposite and same-sex couples would be treated equally in the adoption process, just three gay couples were approved to adopt.
And it wasn’t until December 2018 that both parents in a same-sex couple could be listed on a child’s birth certificate, thanks to a landmark decision from Israel’s High Court.
While the country legalized gestational surrogacy in 1996, it is only available to straight couples. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he supports surrogate parenthood for the LGBTQ community, but he opposed an October 2018 bill that would have legalized surrogacy for same-sex couples and single women, claiming his coalition government didn’t have enough votes to pass it. “When we do, we will do so,” he added.
Until then, prospective same-sex parents must go outside the country, devoting small fortunes and massive resources to create their families. After multiple attempts at surrogacy across three different countries, Sadaka and Aviv estimate they spent close to $250,000 in travel, medical bills and other expenses.
And they’re relatively lucky — in Tel Aviv, Sadaka said, families like theirs aren’t uncommon. Neither they nor their children have faced much in the way of discrimination.
“Outside Tel Aviv it’s not the same situation,” he explained. “And even in the city, there are landlords who won’t rent to gay couples.”
The couple’s twins, a boy and a girl, were born in the U.S. via surrogate in 2017. While Israel immediately recognized the children as citizens, each child was conceived using a donor egg and sperm from each of the two men. As a result, Sadaka and Aviv still have to undergo a bureaucratic procedure to “unify our family” and grant parental rights to each other’s biological child — an extra step Sadaka said straight couples don’t have to deal with.
“As long as the religious parties still control the government, we won’t see a real change,” Sadaka said.
For now, he and Aviv are just glad neither has to be listed as their twins’ mother.