New Family Organization – Family, Justice and Law Initiative (2009)

New Family Organization was selected for its Family, Justice and Law initiative.  Advocate Irit Rosenblum broke fresh ground defending a universal right to family as intrinsic to the practice of law. Rosenblum pioneered a new sphere of legal rights surrounding the family based on the conviction that the rights to marry, divorce, have children, bequeath and inherit assets, and conduct family life are human rights and must be attainable to all regardless of faith, nationality, sexual orientation or status.  She founded New Family to fill a critical gap in the practice of law in Israel: to attain the right of every individual to establish a family and to exercise equal rights within it. For the two million people in Israel who are subject to discrimination due to family status, New Family’s achievements have been invaluable.

by Irit Rosenblum

1.   What goal were you trying to achieve? Why was it important?

I founded New Family in1998 in response to profound challenges to democracy inIsrael and globally. InIsrael, these challenges result from the absence of separation of religion and state, civil marriage, interfaith marriage, and civil liberties for family life outside of religion.Israel has the dubious distinction of being the only democracy in the world that denies its citizens the right to marry if they do not meet religious criteria.

While global citizens might take the principle of religion and state for granted as a fundamental of democracy,Israelhas a unique form of democracy with elements of theocracy. Religious bodies have exclusive jurisdiction over the personal status of every citizen, and personal status is determined by religious bodies according to religious criteria. Personal status impacts every sphere of people’s lives, from the person they can marry, to the authority which can marry them, their rights in case of divorce, access to fertility treatments, adoption, abortion, their rate of taxation, power of attorney in emergencies, inheritance rights, and more. Religious jurisdiction over personal status enshrines in law legal inequalities between citizens and institutionalizes discrimination on the basis of religion, gender, nationality, sexual orientation, and status.

New Family’s innovation is to fill a crucial gap in the theory and practice of law, by working to ensure all residents of Israel equal family rights; including the rights to marry, divorce, have children, register spouses and children, and conduct family life regardless of religion, gender, nationality, sexual orientation, or status.

Equality of citizens under the law is fundamental to democracy, and integral to a free society.

2. How did you gather the internal support, resources and personnel to make it happen? Was there resistance?

As a firm founded to advance legal equality in Israel, naturally, there was no internal resistance. New Family adopted a flexible combined strategy that navigates the most effective way to promote legal rights at any given time. Since our initial strategic choice to press for legislative change a decade ago, New Familycontinually evolved its organizational strategy towards providing legal aid to people whose rights have been violated and changing public consciousness of family rights by remaining sensitive to the political atmosphere, demographic changes, cultural necessities and new legal possibilities. Today, our strategy encompasses innovating legal products, providing legal consultation, selective litigation, public education and legislative and policy advocacy.

New Family maintains its cutting edge by continually innovating new strategies and creating original legal products and services which respond to the needs of our clientele. Our flagship innovation is series of legal products which circumvent or mitigate infringements on civil rights. These legal products provide unrecognized unions and their children status and rights as equal families. Sales of our legal products provide revenue while also marketing our ideology. The people whose legal issues are resolved by our products become effective emissaries and marketing agents, building up the critical mass of people who demonstrate both the problem and the solution needed for real change.

Perhaps the most concrete expression of our legal revolution is the ground-breaking family rights precedents that New Family litigates. Daring and selective high-impact litigation obliges state institutions to upholdnew family rights not previously guaranteed by law.

Superior internal resource delegation was bolstered by cooperation with outside associates. Our allies from the legal, professional, religious, academic, activist, government and business communities were leveraged to present a broad and cohesive front for equality in family rights for all Israelis under the law.

There is however, significant external resistance to our work, since efforts to separate legal rights in the sphere of family from religious status is a direct challenge to the exclusive jurisdiction over personal status held by religious institutions. Religious entities and the secular allies that back them on religious issues in exchange for support for their political agenda vehemently oppose undermining religious jurisdiction over personal status issues.

Many rights promoted by New Family-including unilateral divorce for women, civil marriage, interfaith marriage, gay marriage, adoption and surrogacy-directly contradict a religious belief system and have aroused outrage and opposition among some. New Family has received threats and faced intimidation by extremists who seek to damage the cause of equality.

3. What was the most satisfying aspect of making your project a reality?

The most meaningful aspect of our work is knowing that we’ve made a real difference, both in the lives of tens of thousands of people, and in the legal and social reality of Israel. We derive great satisfaction in having transformed the discourse on family rights in Israel, knowing that New Family shattered taboos surrounding the institution of the family, propelled family rights onto the public agenda, and made our issues popular in public debate. Our Biological Will initiative, which allows people to donate their genetic material for posthumous use, breaks completely new ground in dealing with family life, personal legacy and human survival. It challenges the very conception that biological continuity is bound by the laws of nature. This bases our belief that our work doesn’t just provide immediate solutions to family rights quandaries, but is an ideology with its own moral justification and existence.

4. How have you measured the success of your innovation over time?

We measure our success on several levels.  Quantitatively, our success is evaluated by objective criteria such as data collected on number and distribution of people served; the number of publications published and disseminated; the number of news items generated; frequency, potency, and framing of media coverage on family rights; the number of stakeholders exposed to our message; and government statistics and data that indicates a change in family status in Israel.

Qualitatively, there are the personal beneficiaries. Thanks to New Family, tens of thousands were enabled to access their legal rights. Numerous new families were formed and new babies born as a result of our legal consultation. LGBT families benefited from our specialized expertise in exercising rights not previously available to them, such as joint adoption, surrogacy, assisted reproduction, and registering same-sex parents. The steady stream of clients coming to our office every day are a personal testament to the profound need we fill in society.

5. How have your lawyers, staff and clients responded to this innovative accomplishment?

Our stakeholders have felt pride in working for the noble cause of legal equality. Recognition from the international legal community has been a great source of affirmation and solidarity for our mission.

6. What has been the reaction from your competitors, or from the local legal community and media?

New Family’s legal innovations have been recognized by the local legal community and media for some time. I, Irit Rosenblum, founder and executive director am frequently invited to address conferences and professional associations, publish editorials, appear on TV and radio talk programs, and otherwise contribute to the public debate. New Family is pleased to gain international positioning as a respected professional body on family creation and legal issues.

7. What advice do you have for others who might wish to make something new happen in their law practice or firm?

New Family urges potential innovators to seize the urge to innovate, to surround yourself with creative people, to set your priorities intelligently, and to embrace the boldest tactics for achieving your dream. The most important tool is the belief in your way and your ability to achieve it.  You must have confidence in your abilities. You must dare.

8. Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers about your experience with this project?

New Family is pleased to have earned a place in the InnovAction community-a community of exceptional thinkers and innovators. We value the opportunity to cooperate with and learn from the biggest global legal movers and shakers in our continuing pursuit of legal equality.