June 24, 2020 / 5:03 PM / 11 days ago

'I'm gay and I'm proud': Israeli MP pledges fight for equality

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Israel’s newest member of parliament said on Wednesday he would fight for same-sex marriage and LGBT+ surrogacy rights, after his swearing in took the number of gay lawmakers in the country to a record high and one of the highest percentages globally.

Yorai Lahav Hertzanu, a member of centrist opposition party Yesh Atid, became the Middle Eastern country’s sixth openly gay member of the 120-seat Knesset when he was sworn in on Monday.

“I’m gay and I’m proud of being gay and I’m very proud to be a gay lawmaker in Israel,” 31-year-old Lahav Hertzanu, who also served in parliament in 2019, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone.

Israel has the fifth-highest share of LGBT+ MPs globally, with Britain taking the lead at 8%, followed by Liechtenstein, Scotland and New Zealand, said Andrew Reynolds, a political scientist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

It is among the most liberal countries for LGBT+ rights in the region and one of a handful - along with Jordan and Bahrain - that allow same-sex relations, which are punishable by the death penalty in some Middle Eastern states.

Lahav Hertzanu - who won his seat because another lawmaker in his alliance resigned from parliament after being appointed a minister - said he felt lucky to live in a relatively tolerant country but there was still more to be done.

“I entered politics in order to make sure that we will no longer stay inferior under the law,” said Lahav Hertzanu, who previously led the youth wing of Yesh Atid.

“I can’t marry the love of my life and we can’t have children here, because surrogacy is not available as it is available to straight couples.”

Same-sex marriages are not illegal, but neither are they legally recognised in the country of 9 million, many of whom belong to socially conservative Orthodox Jewish and Muslim communities.

Israel recognises same-sex weddings performed abroad and children adopted overseas by, or born to surrogates for, gay parents. Adoption within Israel is nearly impossible for gay couples, according to advocates.

Since a new government took office in May, Israel now has two openly gay ministers, Amir Ohana and Itzik Shmuli. Neither were available for comment.

LGBT+ advocates welcomed the election of more role models for young gay Israelis, but said that representation needed to extend to lesbian, bisexual and trans people.

“Women earn less and have less opportunities ... so you see less lesbian and transgender women in politics,” said Chen Arieli, the lesbian deputy mayor of Tel Aviv, Israel’s commercial capital.

Reporting by Rachel Savage @rachelmsavage; Editing by Katy Migiro. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org

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