‘I do, I Skype’

Under a first-of-its-kind proposal by two Michigan State University law professors urging states to adopt distance marriage, same-sex couples, elderly and ill couples and those deployed could enjoy the ceremonial rituals of a wedding without worrying about geographical boundaries.

Under a first-of-its-kind proposal by two Michigan State University law professors urging states to adopt distance marriage, same-sex couples, elderly and ill couples and those deployed could enjoy the ceremonial rituals of a wedding without worrying about geographical boundaries.

Their proposal, “Modernizing Marriage,” based on a study of marriage statutes of all 50 states, was recently published in the University of Michigan Journal of Law Reform.

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

The solution: States should revise their marriage statutes to make them accessible to those beyond their boundaries. And technological advances including video conferencing – such as Skype – 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 said. “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 said.

States have always authorized and sanctioned marriage performed outside their borders, the researchers said. 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.

So 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 said.

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 said. “Michigan could get publicity and money for being innovative about something other than trying to make a car that somebody will buy.”