What do you think of when you hear the words, “I do”? Under most circumstances, especially in Western culture, we think of a beautiful white wedding with both a bride and groom and witnesses to their commemoration.
Yet, in many Eastern countries, proxy marriages where a couple weds with the absence of one or both parties is legally acceptable.
In an article in the New York Times, George Andrews, operations manager for a company that facilitates proxy marriages worldwide, said, “In the seven years the company has been in existence, business has increased by 12 percent to 15 percent annually to between 400 and 500 weddings a year.”
Andrews said that proxy marriages are continually on the rise with advancing technology, including Skype and Google Hangout.
How does this work?
In the early 20th century, many proxy marriages were held in the United States when men were on active duty in the military.
In the U.S. now, proxy marriages are legal under law in only five states, including California. The state of Montana is the only state that recognizes double proxy marriages, a marriage in which both parties are not physically present and are represented by others. The Montana State Law recognizes full, legal proxy marriages in which one or two “proxies” stand in the place of the bride or groom and say “I do” for them if there is sufficient reason to do so.
The solemnization must be held in the state to be legally lawful.
MPPM, the Military Pay Proxy Marriage, assists couples in obtaining a proxy marriage as well as the significant benefits that come with one party serving in the U.S. Armed Forces. The organization states that, “As a general rule of law, internationally, virtually all nations will recognize the legal validity of a proxy marriage which is solemnized in another jurisdiction, even if the nation does not have the laws which allow for proxy marriages to be solemnized in the recognizing nation.”
And as odd as it seems—that this method would be so widely supported—this unusual kind of marriage is not a new trend. It dates back to early Medieval Ages.
The famous Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette were wed by proxy before she met him in France. Proxy marriages were conducted by representatives, then by telegraph, and until recently, by telephone. With technology, we have advanced in allowing couples to celebrate their union together over video conferences.
This may sound romantic and may be a relief for some couples, but there are the underlying motives of these marriages. As many unable foreigners strive to make their way to the United States and obtain a legitimate citizenship.
But sadly, some matrimonies also lead to forced marriages and abusive relationships.
The New York Times examined the marriage between Punam Chowdhury, an American citizen, and Tanvir Ahmmed, who was in Bangladesh. As soon as the couple exchanged words of union, the connection was cut and the wedding was over. Although this couple seemed full of joy and were feeding each other virtual cake, many couples’ stories are not as heart-warming.
Yet it is also common for couples’ marriage contract to be legally recognized upon their arrival, only to then see spouses suffer abuse, abandonment and thus increased divorce rates. Archie Pyati, deputy director of the Immigration Intervention Project, told the New York Times how such marriages can even occur without consent in some countries, or to women who are currently still children.
Thankfully in the United States, those applying for citizenship through marriage must be interviewed by the Homeland Security or State Department to be cleared of fraud. Couples wedded by proxy are not required to provide information about their online or informal wedding, but if officials find out, it could be automatically void and counted as fraud. Hopefully, this helps cut down on some of the more unsavory elements of the practice, but there’s no guarantee.
And although proxy marriages could be helpful for those who are separated or in the military, they should be examined on a case-by-case basis.
Next time you get the notion to say “I do” online, make sure to check your Internet connection.