Tel Aviv, Israel – Liran Buchny and Maor Shtern met almost a decade ago when they were serving in Israel’s army. Their wedding celebration was, no doubt, different. The venue: a nightclub, and the officiant was not a rabbi. But they wanted to keep some of the classic Jewish traditions including the toasts, the giant chuppah – or canopy representing “home” – and the stomping on glasses.
“I think that just by doing a big wedding in Israel, that’s our big statement … not letting the system take you down,” Maor Shtern told CBS News correspondent Seth Doane.
It had all the trappings, traditions and excitement of a wedding, but gay marriage is not legal in Israel. Israel embraces gay tourists – even hosts a gay Pride – but lags behind when it comes to gay rights.
Still, hundreds of wedding guests gathered in a very public show of support.
CBS News was with Shtern and Buchny ahead of the “big day” as they checked out the venue, the decorations and those all-important details like the rings. At their Tel Aviv apartment, we heard how the stresses of planning a wedding are universal. The couple said there have been arguments.
But as a same-sex couple, there were considerable differences in wedding planning. The Tel Aviv celebrations were actually part two of the wedding. Back in August, the guys and their families traveled to Portugal where they could legally marry. Then, a loophole allows the union to be officially recognized in Israel. In 2018, more than 400 same-sex couples registered their foreign weddings in the country.
Etai Pinkas-Arad was among the first same-sex couples to marry outside the country. He’s on the city council and founded Tel Aviv’s LGBT center, which staged a “mass wedding” protest during pride in June.
“We wanted … to give an opportunity for as many couples as possible to get – kind of – married,” Pinkas-Arad said.
“Married from more of a publicity perspective – more than a legal one,” Doane said.
“Yeah, absolutely,” Pinkas-Arad responded.
Israel’s Pride is a destination for gay travelers, but it’s a Jewish state, and Pinkas-Arad said the religious orthodox pose a hearty opposition. Being gay is “against the Jewish law,” he said.
Here, marriage is a religious institution. There’s no civil union – straight or gay.
“In Tel Aviv, you have gay parties, you have a gay pubs and bars,” Shtern said. “But sometimes, it feels as if like the government is using Tel Aviv – or the gay community as a like a pink wash.”
“What is a pink wash?” Doane asked.
“Showing to the world, ‘Oh, Israel is a very liberal place and Israel is very accepting’ – because when you compare it to the other countries of the Middle East, yeah – it’s right,” Shtern said.
Still, they’re proud of their country and their relationship.
“Even if it’s not legal we want all of our friends and family to be there and to keep the Jewish tradition,” Buchny said.
At their ceremony, Buchny and Shtern selected the rainbow as their wedding colors – something Shtern’s mom incorporated right into her hairdo. Just after the vows, the guys changed into t-shirts for a brother-sister family dance-off.
Buchny said it was “even more” than the wedding they had hoped for.
“During the ceremony I was like looking out at the crowd. I said I have to memorize this picture of all the people we know and all of the people we love standing together at the same place,” Shtern said.
“And it’s amazing,” Buchny said.
The legalities – or lack thereof – are overlooked here, at least for this celebratory moment where all that matters is love.