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By Tara Cavanaugh
Gay and lesbian couples in Michigan know that if they want to get married, they have to go to another state where it’s legal. These couples also know that the state of Michigan won’t recognize their marriage when they get back.
But what if these couples didn’t have to travel? What if, by using a video communication service, they were granted a marriage by an officiant in another state – while their feet were firmly planted on Michigan soil?
That’s the idea proposed by Mae Kuykendall and Adam Candeub, law professors at Michigan State University, as explained in an article in the latest issue of the University of Michigan Journal of Law Reform.
“If people are willing to travel to places like Vermont or Massachusetts from Alabama, it means something to them to undergo an official marriage ceremony,” Kuykendall says. “I am arguing it would mean even more to them to do it in Alabama where their friends and family could be there.”
Interestingly, there are no specific laws that say e-marriage is legal or illegal: “They tend to say something that implies that you have to be physically present in the state,” Kuykendall says. “But one of the issues that arises is: what does presence mean? Could you be present by telecommunication?”
Kuykendall says that couples, both gay and straight, have already used such “e-weddings.” “When straight couples do it, it’s treated as an interesting story and something for people to coo about,” she says, but when gay couples want to do it, the exact language of laws is scrutinized. Last fall, a gay couple in Texas who married in the state while their officiant was in D.C., where same-sex marriage is legal, was met with a cancelled marriage certificate after their e-marriage became a popular news national news story. The couple had to go to D.C. to have a perfunctory ceremony and to get another license.
“These statutes are being read more broadly by people to meet their needs, and it seems natural to them to use technology to overcome various kinds of barriers, including barriers that might be within the state about whether they can be physically together,” Kuykendall says.
“One of my arguments is that states should update the statutes because one of the goals in marriage law is certainty. People want to know that they really did get married.”
Kuykendall also says that if a state decides to create a specific law that allows e-marriages, it could charge a fee for those marriages, too. It could also offer background checks – to be certain that the people getting hitched are who they say they are.
But when Kuykendall presented the idea of e-marriage to a Michigan legislator, she was met with a no-way response.
Kuykendall says the lawmaker told her that Michigan is very anti-progressive and wouldn’t even consider the idea of allowing e-marriages – that Michigan only marries straight couples and although e-marriage would only be for straight couples, it would serve as precedent for a state that does do gay marriage, so Michigan lawmakers would never touch it with a ten-foot pole.