Distant marriage: States allow Skype ‘I do’?

MICHIGAN STATE (US) — States should modernize marriage laws by allowing couples to marry outside state borders, utilizing videoconferencing technologies such as Skype, according to a first-of-its-kind proposal by two law professors.

The proposal, based on a study of marriage statuses of all 50 states, would mean same-sex couples, elderly and ill couples, and those deployed could enjoy the ceremonial rituals of a wedding without worrying about geographical boundaries. Details of the proposal were recently published in the Journal of Law Reform.


In their study, Mae Kuykendall and Adam Candeub, law professors at Michigan State University, found laws to be obsolete and antiquated, not reflecting the mobile needs of a technologically connected society.

Technological advances including video conferencing would allow for this just as it has “transformed corporate deal closings,” they argue.

“Even though this sounds like a really novel proposal, it’s not: Law has always been something you can sell across jurisdictions,” Kuykendall says. “So we think people are just being literal in this assumption that you have to be physically present in a state to consume its marriage law.”

The researchers began working on their E-Marriage Project after California passed Proposal 8 in 2008, which in effect simply banned the word “marriage” for same-sex couples, but didn’t strip other rights, she says.

States have always authorized and sanctioned marriage performed outside their borders, the researchers say. Case in point: proxy marriage, a wedding in which the bride or groom is represented by someone else (often used by military couples). But distance marriage is a much more cost-friendly alternative.

While all couples could benefit from e-marriage convenience, it’s especially beneficial for same-sex couples, Kuykendall and Candeub write. For example, Vermont is one of six states that authorize same-sex marriage. So a couple living in Louisiana could celebrate a wedding on their home soil, surrounded by family and friends, under Vermont law with a Vermont marriage license.

What’s in it for states? They could set their own parameters, thereby fostering competition. With options on the table, couples could choose the legal forms of marriage they like best. And the fees associated with such marriages could earn states much-needed revenue, Kuykendall says.

Vermont legislators have expressed some interest in the researchers’ proposal, but Kuykendall and Candeub urge legislatures from other states to start talking and to offer public hearings.

“Every time states liberalize, they get nervous. But we urge states to stop being nervous and modernize their marriage laws,” Kuykendall says.

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