Fact check: Israel recognizes same-sex marriages performed abroad

The claim: Israel is the only country in the Middle East to recognize same-sex marriage

As Americans celebrate the progress made for LGBTQ+ rights during Pride month, a misleading claim about gay rights in Israel is circulating online. 

“Would like to extend a big thank you to all the countries in the Middle East that support gay marriage,” reads a June 2 tweet with an image that claims Israel is the only country in the region to recognize same-sex marriage.

That claim has spread in different forms on Instagram.

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However, this claim about LGBTQ+ rights in the Middle East is somewhat misleading. While Israel is unique among its neighbors in recognizing same-sex marriages performed in other countries, same-sex couples cannot legally marry in Israel.

USA TODAY reached out to several posters for comment. 

Same-sex marriage is illegal in Israel

Participants wave banners and LGBTQ rainbow flags during the annual Pride parade, as Israel lifted COVID-19 restrictions, in Jerusalem on June 3, 2021. (Photo: EMMANUEL DUNAND, AFP via Getty Images)

The Israeli consulate in Los Angeles says same-sex couples cannot enter into a civil marriage domestically. 

“In the absence of civil marriage in Israel, the Israeli Supreme Court recognizes same-sex marriages performed abroad,” it states.

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According to the consulate, Israel has recognized same-sex marriages performed abroad since 2006. However, leaders have not approved domestic legalization. Israel’s Knesset legislative assembly voted against a bill that would legalize same-sex marriage in 2018, the Council on Foreign Relations reported in a backgrounder updated June 23, 2020. 

Most Middle East countries do not recognize gay marriage at all

A woman holds balloons as she participates in the first Gay Pride Parade in Beersheba, Israel, Thursday, June 22, 2017. (Photo: Ariel Schalit, AP)

Israel’s recognition of same-sex marriages performed abroad distinguishes it from other countries in the region. 

According to Britannica, the Middle East describes 20 states and territories: Turkey, Cyprus, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Iran, Israel, the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, Jordan, Egypt, Sudan, Libya, Saudia Arabia, Kuwait, Yemen, Oman, Bahrain, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.

Same-sex marriage was legal in 29 countries as of June 2021 according to The Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s website. The HRC monitors marriage equality efforts across the globe. None of those countries were located in the Middle East.

Participants take part in the annual Gay Pride parade in the Israeli city of Tel Aviv, on June 9, 2017. (Photo: JACK GUEZ, AFP via Getty Images)

Compared to other Middle Eastern countries, Israel does afford LGBTQ+ people more benefits and rights. The consulate in Los Angeles says benefits include the right to adopt, the right to social security, and protection from discrimination from employers and the ability to serve openly and equally in the military. 

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That’s a contrast with the treatment LGBTQ+ people face elsewhere in the region. In some countries, LGBTQ+ people face danger and imprisonment according to The Council on Foreign Relation’s backgrounder. And same-sex sexual relations are punishable by death in Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen.

Our rating: Missing context

The claim that Israel is the only country in the Middle East to recognize same-sex marriage is MISSING CONTEXT, because without additional information it could be misleading. It is true that Israel recognizes same-sex marriages performed abroad and affords same-sex couples many rights other neighboring countries do not. However, Israel does not allow same-sex couples to marry domestically. 

Our fact-check sources:

  • USA TODAY, June 3, What are the origins of Pride Month? And who should we thank for the LGBTQ celebration?
  • Consulate General of Israel in Los Angeles, accessed June 8, Israel Experience | Gay Israel
  • Council on Foreign Relations, June 23,  Same-Sex Marriage: Global Comparisons
  • Britannica, accessed June 8, Middle East
  • The Human Rights Campaign Foundation, accessed June 8, Marriage Equality Around the World

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