The Right to Family Life and Civil Marriage under International Law and Its Implementation in the State of Israel


The article deals with the protection of the right to family life under international law and its implementation in the State of Israel on three levels: protection of the family cell as a single unit; protection of the individuals comprising the family unit; and protection of the family in special circumstances (e.g., immigration rights).

The article begins by analyzing the characteristics of the right to family life and examining various definitions of the “family” under international and Israeli law. It also examines what it is that the right to family life encompasses and how it should be classified within the context of the division into civil and political rights, on the one hand, and social and economic rights, on the other hand. It argues that the absence of a clear, standard definition for the “family” and the exclusion of “alternative” family bonds lead to an infringement of the rights of many who, in practice, conduct a family life.

Following this discussion, the article analyzes the degree of protection accorded to the family in various contexts, both in international and Israeli law, including: the right of the family to social security, parent-child relations, immigration rights based on family ties, and the freedom to marry. It finds a disparity in the manner of implementation of the right to family life between Jewish Israeli citizens, on the one hand, and Arab Israeli citizens and Arab residents of the Occupied Territories, on the other hand.

The most severe limitation on the right to family life within the borders of the State of Israel relates to the lack of an option to marry in a civil ceremony. While international law recognizes the imposition of certain limitations on the freedom to marry, the additional limitations on the right to marry, imposed by Jewish religious law, constitute a breach of international commitments by the State of Israel. The article thus concludes that the only way to guarantee equality within the family context – and to ensure the right of every individual to marry, free of the shackles of religious law, as mandated by international law – is the introduction of civil marriage in Israel.


Civil Rights and Discrimination | Comparative and Foreign Law | Constitutional Law | Family Law | Human Rights Law | International Law

Date of this Version

May 2004