Two Michigan State law professors have advanced a proposal for states to expand their marriage licensing activity – by encouraging what they’re calling e-marriage (H/T Futurity). That’s not to say that no one has gotten married over Skype or some similar communications protocol – they have. There appears to be some issue about the marriages being lawfully recognized, but that may be more about the technology providing a work-around to the Defense of Marriage Act than a resistance to marriages where one or more parties aren’t in the same physical space.
To clarify – the kind of e-marriage discussed here involves marriage past the physical boundaries of the state. In a case linked to above, a couple was married in Texas by an officiant in the District of Columbia and the marriage was considered (though later nullified) to have ‘taken place’ in the District.
Now, it has been possible to physically travel to another jurisdiction for a marriage (or a divorce) even though the parties were resident in another state (though apparently destination weddings in other countries can be problematic). And there have been cases of marriage by proxy, whether that is by phone, radio, mail or telegraph. Five states currently allow proxy marriage, and one of them allows for proxies to stand for both parties. Perhaps if the couple mentioned above had been married via teleconference by an officiant in Montana, there would have been no issue (the union in question is same-sex, which prompted the choice of the District).
The authors argue that encourage distance marriage via e-marriage, depending on how it is implemented, could help with many legal issues arising from the current patchwork of legal interpretations of existing marriages. It could also allow for a ‘competitive’ marriage marketplace.
But I was more interested in the idea of legally binding acts conducted via teleconference. What else could be changed and/or made easier by allowing it to happen electronically. The only other relevant thing I could think of was the execution of contracts via electronic signatures. But that has been address for at least the last 10 years after the U.S. enacted a law to give more validity to contractual agreements entered into electronically. I have to admit I’m kind of stumped. Which suggests that electronic marriages aren’t as big of a deal as I initially thought. Unless someone decides to make them a big deal(?)