A proxy wedding or proxy marriage is a wedding in which one or both of the individuals being united are not physically present, usually being represented instead by other persons. If both partners are absent a double proxy wedding occurs.
Marriage by proxy is usually resorted to either when a couple wish to marry but one or both partners cannot attend for reasons such as military service, imprisonment, or travel restrictions; or when a couple lives in a jurisdiction in which they cannot legally marry.
Proxy weddings are not recognized as legally binding in most jurisdictions: both parties must be present. Under the English common law, if a proxy marriage is valid by the law of the place where the marriage was celebrated (the lex loci celebrationis) then it will be recognised in England and Wales.
Starting in the Middle Ages, European monarchs and nobility sometimes married by proxy. Some examples of this include:
- Mary, Queen of Hungary to Louis I, Duke of Orléans, in 1385
- Henry IV to Joanna of Navarre, the daughter of Charles d'Évreux, King of Navarre, on April 2, 1402
- Catherine of Aragon to Prince Arthur in 1499
- Anne of Austria to Louis XIII on October 18, 1615
- Charles I of England to Henrietta Maria of France on May 1, 1625
- Marie Antoinette to Louis-Auguste on April 19, 1770
- Napoleon I of France to Austrian Archduchess Marie Louise in 1810
- Lorenzo de'Medici to Clarice Orsini in 1469
Many proxy marriages were carried out during the First and Second World Wars, with soldiers at the front marrying women at home, often participating in the wedding via telephone. During the First World War, proxy marriage was permitted in Belgium, France, Germany, Norway, Czechoslovakia and Italy. On 4 April 1915 proxy marriage was legalised in France.
Proxy marriage was common in the US, UK, Soviet Union and Nazi Germany during the Second World War, where obtaining leave to return home and marry was difficult or impossible. Kansas City, Kansas was known for its permissive proxy marriage laws; one lawyer in the city participated in 39 proxy weddings.
As of 2015[update], various Internet sites offer to arrange proxy and double-proxy marriages for a fee, although the service can generally be set up by any lawyer in a jurisdiction that offers proxy marriage. Video conferencing allows couples to experience the ceremony together. A unique "space wedding" took place on August 10, 2003 when Ekaterina Dmitriev, an American citizen living in the U.S. state of Texas where the ceremony was performed, married Yuri Malenchenko, a cosmonaut, who was orbiting the Earth in the International Space Station, by proxy.
In the United States, proxy marriages are provided for in law or by customary practice in Texas, Colorado, Kansas, and Montana. Of these, Montana is the only state that allows double-proxy marriage. Proxy marriages cannot be solemnized in any other U.S. states.
In 1924, a federal court recognized the proxy marriage of a resident of Portugal, where proxy marriages were recognized at the time, and a resident of Pennsylvania, where common-law marriages could be contracted at the time. The Portuguese woman was allowed to immigrate to the United States on account of the marriage, whereas she would have been inadmissible otherwise due to being illiterate.
During the early 1900s, United States proxy marriages increased significantly when many Japanese picture brides arrived at Angel Island, California. Since the early 20th century, it has been most commonly used in the United States for marriages where one partner is a member of the military on active duty. In California, proxy marriage is only available to deployed military personnel. In Montana, it is available if one partner is either on active military duty or is a Montana resident. In the United states if a proxy marriage has been performed in a state that legally allows it many states will recognize it fully or will recognize it as a common law marriage. The exception to this is the state of Iowa where it is completely unrecognized.
Germany does not allow proxy marriages within its jurisdiction (§ 1311 BGB). It recognizes proxy marriages contracted elsewhere where this is possible, subject to the usual rules of private international law, unless the foreign law should be incompatible with German ordre public (art. 6 EGBGB): this is not the case with the marriage by proxy per se, would be if, e. g., the proxy was held responsible for choosing the spouse without further asking rather than only contracting a marriage with a given spouse.
In 2014 it was reported that "proxy marriage misuse" was common in the UK, in which an EU citizen and non-EU citizen, both living in the UK, participated in a proxy marriage in an outside country. These were sham marriages which allowed one spouse to gain EU citizenship.
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