Army officers gay partner loses appeal for benefits

JERUSALEM — A military appeal committee has upheld the Defense Ministry's refusal to grant the homosexual partner of a deceased army officer the same benefits given to bereaved heterosexual spouses.

Adir Steiner's request that he be recognized as a bereaved spouse, and subsequently eligible for the benefits, was rejected two weeks ago by the Defense Ministry's appeal committee.

Gay rights activists said the decision could set back efforts to gain equality "by years."

Steiner, 28, has maintained that the army had fully recognized his relationship with Col. Doron Meisel, an army medical officer, in the eight years they were together before Meisel's death from illness in 1991.

However, the ministry has refused to acknowledge Steiner's status since Meisel's death.

"I want the army to recognize me as the partner of Doron, as it recognized me when Doron was alive," he told Israel Radio. "I want to be able to attend memorial services for him, to get the benefits of a bereaved partner."

The committee accepted the ministry's argument that the legal code defining surviving spouses does not apply to same-sex partners.

It went on to say that "the cancellation of the law calling homosexual relations illegal does not make such relationships part of the value system of Israel as a Jewish state."

The panel also referred to a precedent, in which the Supreme Court ruled that Israel's El Al Airlines had to grant the same-sex partner of a spouse the same benefits as a heterosexual partner.

But the military committee said the relationship between the Israel Defense Force and the soldier in the army is not an employee-employer relationship.

Steiner was expected to take his case to a civil court.

Amit Kama, executive director of the Society for the Protection of Personal Rights, stressed that the trend in the Supreme Court and elsewhere in Israeli society has been one of liberalism and openness.

"This is definitely a dark moment," Kama said. But he added that the general atmosphere had changed sufficiently to ensure that a court appeal would reverse the decision.