The Right To Marry

The op-ed below was featured in The Times of Israel and was written by my wife  Shira, the Israel director of our foundation. Our foundation is partnering with the Feuerstein Institute to explore this issue and create a structure wherein people with developmental disabilities can get married.

Jay

shiraAmi and Sivan (not their real names) are getting married soon. They are attending sessions to practice communication and problem solving skills, undergoing bride and groom counseling separately, learning household management and budget planning, receiving sexual education. They are very happy together and cannot wait to begin their life’s journey in unison.

What you may not know about Ami and Sivan is that they are both people with a developmental disability. Go back for a second and reread the above paragraph. What do you think now?

The prevailing trend in Israel is to discourage people with a developmental disability from getting married, in many cases because of pre-existing prejudices. But people with developmental disabilities, like all of us, don’t want to be alone – they want to be socially active, to form relationships. We as a society do not have the right to intervene and tell someone they cannot start a family. We cannot deny people the freedom to be with someone else and instead condemn them to a life of loneliness.

The Ruderman Family Foundation has partnered with the Feuerstein Institute to create a formal structure whereby people with developmental disabilities can get married. We have formed a joint public committee which will hear from a wide range of leaders from different fields- judges, rabbis, lawyers and social workers among others. The State of Israel, represented by the Welfare and Education Ministries, will weigh in on the ramifications of encouraging marriage between people with disabilities. Their support and sanctioning these marriages will help create an atmosphere which will welcome these unions and aid a public awareness campaign we will launch soon.

Our partnership aims to establish contact with existing couples to prepare them for marriage, to provide a support system for the couples after marriage, to change public attitudes and to create a suitable legal infrastructure to uphold legal requirements. Rather than shying away from this conversation, we are bringing it to the forefront.

Continue reading the post on Times of Israel.

Read our last post: Peoplehood and Disability

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2 Comments

Filed under Disabilities rights, Initiatives, perceptions of disability

2 responses to “The Right To Marry

  1. Debbie

    I have been thinking about this post for several days, and now have a moment to write down my thoughts. Apologies in advance if due to the fast I am less clear than usual.

    While I agree in principle with the idea, I feel obliged to point out a potential pitfall. What about intimate and/or sexual relations outside of marriage? Reducing or eliminating legal barriers to marriage seems likely to open those up as well – with a resulting increased danger of abuse.

    I say this as I consider other populations which are under similar restrictions. Population A, for example, is not allowed to marry without permission from their legal guardian, or to engage in relations outside of marriage at all. Anyone who does attempt to have relations with a member of this population is liable to criminal prosecution, which typically follows swiftly after charges are filed, to general applause. The thinking seems to be that these individuals lack the required mental maturity to understand the implications and meaning of these acts and must be protected for their own good and safety. Even if a female in population A, for example, as recently happened in my city, really wants to engage in consensual intimate relations with a member of the general population, the man in question can be – and currently is being -criminally prosecuted for agreeing. In many Western countries, such as the US, programs exist for the specific purpose of preventing unprotected relations and pregnancy among members of this population. All of this is generally applauded by the vast majority and sets an interesting precedent.

    I might add that population A is children aged 16-18. As you wrote so eloquently, “Go back for a second and reread the above paragraph. What do you think now?”

    • Thank you Debbie for your comment!

      The questions you raised are complex and difficult ones. Through our initiative, we will discuss the legal ramifications of the issue you raised- the reality is that sexual relationships already exist without this initiative. We hope that some of the answers and solutions will be found and implemented in order to deal with it.

      We will post here again as this initiative moves along so you can follow the progress.

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