Online dating, online marriage?

It’s not unusual for spouses to have met online these days and the internet has made keeping long-distance love alive infinitely easier. I’ve heard numerous stories of long dating periods done solely online. But what about that next step: getting married digitally, via Skype?

It’s not exactly a movement, but online marriage is happening.

Is it legal to get married online?

Proxy marriage, in which one spouse is absent, is actually a very old practice. Marie Antoinette and King Louis XVI were technically married remotely in Marie’s home country of Austria. She later made the trek to France and they had another public ceremony. These days a proxy marriage is rare and mostly occurs among deployed soldiers who are concerned about leaving their significant other without benefits in case of death. In most other cases, U.S. law requires both parties to be physically present in order to legally wed.

Some cultures have more of a precedent for remote wedding vows and other countries have looser laws that permit marriage via telegram or phone. The practice is gaining popularity among immigrant groups and/or individuals who want to wed someone in their country of origin but are challenged by the high cost of back-and-forth trips for courtship and marriage. Still, online marriage is such a new concept that most current laws are not prepared to address it.

The New York Times recently ran a feature on online marriage following Queen’s resident Punam Chowdhury as she married her long-distance sweetheart, Anvir Ahmmed, via Skype. The Chowdhury-Ahmmed marriage “took place” and is legally registered in Bangladesh where Anvir lives since the practice is not allowed in New York. However, the United States will most likely recognize the union as it does any other official foreign marriage–given that it does not violate any U.S. laws.

Dangerous Ground

Punam and Anvir were like any other bride and groom, giggling, nervous and excited. After the official “I dos” they pretended to onlinemarriagefeed each other cake through the computer. Unfortunately, not all online marriage or proxy marriage arrangements are so joyful. If a marriage can take place with out both parties present, how can consent be ensured?

“Part of the reason for having the two people come and appear before a priest or a judge is to make sure it is a freely chosen thing,” said Adam Candeub, a professor at Michigan State University College of Law. “There are some problems with willy-nilly allowing anyone around the world to marry.”

Online marriage raises the concern that proxy marriage may be used for marriage fraud to get visas and green cards. There is also concern about human trafficking–a serious danger for many foreign women looking to emigrate. Several New York marriage officiates and matchmakers expressed sorrow that they had to turn down some marriages because one side was acting with dubious intent.

Just not the same

For many people, proxy marriage just doesn’t feel right. Marriage is one of the most important events in a person’s life, the moment when you make the deepest commitment that you can in our society. Doing it over the internet seems wrong. So much of our lives is conducted virtually–friendships, work, relationships, housekeeping–it is sad to see such a meaningful and beautiful ceremony fall to the fast, cheap and easy mentality of the modern digital age.

At the same time, like eloping, an online marriage has the potential to be romantic and meaningful as well. Besides, it’s what happens after the wedding that counts in a marriage.

Whatever the ceremony, may the marriage be long, happy, and full of love!