Here’s a piece of trivia on what makes Montana unique: it’s the only state (and maybe the only place in the world) that allows double proxy marriages. Translation: neither the bride nor groom has to show up to the wedding.
Stand-ins, usually attorneys, can exchange the vows of matrimony on behalf of the blissful, but physically absent, couple. While three other states offer proxy weddings—California, Colorado and Texas—these states still require that at least one of the parties appear before the civil authorities.
Unfortunately, the double proxy marriage law—a classic example of Montana’s don’t-mess-with-the-West, live-and-let-live libertarian culture—is now straining the State’s “resources,” as Representative Deborah Kottel (D-Great Falls) pointed out Tuesday morning on Montana Public Radio while discussing related House Bill 361, which she sponsored. Apparently, couples from as far away as China and Sweden are getting married in Montana, while never leaving their respective separate homes, much less countries.
Slightly bizarre, isn’t it? In the age of globalization, Internet dating, and a jet-setting, cosmopolitan culture, double proxy marriages now seem more and more appealing. But the increase in non-English speaking marriage license applicants is sapping valuable time from the county employees (namely District Court Clerks) processing the licenses. A procedure that usually lasts 30 minutes can take up to two hours when staff work with foreigners, due to language barriers, name misspellings, and other snafus.
That’s why Kottel sponsored House Bill 361, which amends the laws for proxy weddings. Don’t worry, though—the bill still doesn’t require either party to actually be present for the marriage. It just ensures that at least one member of the couple is either a Montana resident or in the Armed Forces of the United States. Hopefully, this change will reduce the time county employees spend processing marriage licenses from out-of-state and out-of-country lovebirds.
Double proxy marriage law originated in the 1860s during Montana’s mining boom, when it was still a territory. Young men from far and wide streamed into the area around Butte. Searching for fortunes had its downside, however—the Montana territory was lacking eligible women, and quite distant from many of the miners’ East-Coast-based fiancés. Thus, Montana enacted the double proxy marriage law, which has remained in place ever since. A legal U.S. proxy marriage is recognized by every state except Iowa, and recognized by all branches of the military.
Proxy weddings are especially practical for military personnel stationed far from loved ones. However, www.answers.com also states: “Many proxy weddings occur when one member is in jail or on the way.”
For a heart-warming story on how Montana’s double proxy law has been used recently, check out this 2004 story on a Virginia woman who married a U.S. soldier stationed in Iraq by holding a wedding ceremony in Montana—which neither, of course, attended.
Sam and Barbara Geller, owners of the Pennsylvania-based business Marriage By Proxy.Com, advertise to three demographics of potentially-wedded-couples on their webpage: “Military,” “Incarcerated Citizens” and “Foreign Residents.” It’s the latter category of proxy marriages that prompted the Montana Legislature to take a closer look at our state’s related law.
Montana’s marriage license fee of $53 isn’t sufficient to cover the increased interest in the State’s unique proxy law. Thus, Kottel introduced HB 361 with the following amendment to Section 40-1-301 of the Montana Code Annotated:
“One party to a proxy marriage must be a member fo the Armed Forces of the United States on federal active duty or a resident of Montana at the time of application for a license and certificate pursuant to 40-1-202. One party or a legal representative shall appear before the clerk of court and pay the marriage license fee…”
The bill sailed through the House 88-12 on February 8th, and the Senate passed it 37-13 with amendments on March 23rd. The House then passed the amended version yesterday, which will take effect immediately. The bill also, incidentally, changed the existing male-pronoun-dominant “he” language in MCA 40-1-301 to “the person” and “the party.”
In other related marriage law trivia, Montana does not allow same-sex marriage, or marriages to your cousin. It does, however, recognize common law marriages if the following requirements are met: (1) capacity to consent to the marriage; (2) an agreement to be married; (3) cohabitation; and (4) a reputation of being married. No one under the age of 15 is allowed to marry in Montana, and parental consent is necessary if a party is under 18 years of age.