JERUSALEM — The Israeli military has announced a small but dramatic policy change to help same-sex couples continue serving in the reserves with ease even after becoming parents.
The new policy ensures that same-sex couples will not have to simultaneously report for reserve duty, a requirement of most men and a few women after completing compulsory military service in their early twenties. Reserve duty continues even after parenthood, posing a parenting problem for same sex couples if both partners are called to serve at the same time.
Israel is one of some 30 countries that allow gays to openly serve in the military. It was revealed in February that one transgender officer, who joined the army as a woman, underwent a gender transformation while serving.
The new policy by the military to accommodate same-sex couples in the reserves capped a week of events and discussions in the country ahead of an annual gay pride parade — a megaparty that took place Friday in Tel Aviv, attracting some 100,000 revelers from Israel and around the world.
This year’s theme put the spotlight on supporting the transgender community; many were buoyed by former Olympic athlete Bruce Jenner’s transformation to Caitlyn. Jenner was invited to the party but did not attend. A Tel Aviv city council member who extended the invitation referred to her as an inspiration. One transgender celebrity who did appear and perform at Friday’s parade was the bearded, dress-wearing singer Conchita Wurst, the Austrian winner of last year’s Eurovision song contest.
However, as with many things in Israel, gay pride is not just about equal rights and fighting discrimination. It also leads to a complicated political discussion of the country’s actions vis-à-vis the Palestinians. Critics of Israel often dismiss positive steps in LGTB rights as "pinkwashing," meaning the cynical use of gay rights to distract from the Israel’s military occupation of the Palestinians. It’s a term frequently used by those advocating boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel.
Despite that, the challenges faced by gay Israeli parents made international headlines earlier this year and garnered much sympathy here after several families were stranded in post-earthquake Nepal with newborn babies born to Indian surrogates there. Surrogacy is restricted in Israel to infertile heterosexual couples, so same-sex male couples must look elsewhere to countries that accommodate gays.
Amir Michaeli-Molian, one of the fathers stranded in Nepal, told The Washington Post at the time that although Israel is liberal when it comes to gays, having a family is another issue. The earthquake helped focus attention on some of the problems, giving same-sex couples hope for change.
The steps taken this week by the army could encourage that, too.