Updated September 2020 (please scroll to bottom of article for updates) Due to COVID-19, weddings are being cancelled, postponed, or drastically changed to accommodate crowd restrictions, and many of our ministers are asking us about performing a “virtual wedding ceremony.”
Basically, officiants want to know if they can perform a legal wedding ceremony via Skype, Zoom, or FaceTime.
In theory it may seem simple enough, but the concept is actually quite complex, and generally speaking, is neither legal nor allowed – for logical reasons.
1. The couple and their intended officiant must be in compliance with all marriage laws and officiant/minister registration regulations in the state where the ceremony is taking place, and where the marriage license has been obtained. (We clarify exactly what ‘compliance’ means here in the next few paragraphs.)
2. The officiant must be physically present to sign and complete the marriage license along with witnesses, which must occur immediately after the ceremony. Without the officiant being physically present, the ceremony is just an exchange of words, or spiritual commitment.
3. Marriage laws vary drastically across the country, and it should not be assumed that virtual wedding ceremonies will be considered valid by local marriage laws
Allow us to explain further:
A particular jurisdiction – whether a specific county, city, state or foreign country – will only recognize a marriage from another jurisdiction if it was performed following the local marriage laws there.
For example: If a couple has obtained their marriage license in Ohio, and has their officiant registered to perform marriage there (as officiants are required to do in the state of Ohio), then that is where the marriage must take place and the marriage license be completed – in person – by all required parties. The officiant and the couple getting married must be physically present at the ceremony performed in that jurisdiction. Only then will the marriage be legally recognized by other jurisdictions.
This is because the power granted by the state of Ohio to the officiant is strictly limited to performing marriage specifically within that state, or jurisdiction. As such, the authority granted by the state of Ohio is void elsewhere. Disregarding this clear limitation on geographical jurisdiction would mean noncompliance – which would result in an invalid marriage.
This actually happened when a couple in Texas had their officiant - who was in Washington, D.C. - perform the ceremony via Skype. Because "marriage statutes in the District of Columbia requires marriages to be celebrated within the jurisdictional and territorial boundaries of the city," their marriage was declared invalid.
All of this means that ministers and wedding officiants are only authorized to perform marriage in a certain location if they are in compliance with that particular county/city/state's local marriage laws and regulations; their authorization to perform marriage outside of that jurisdiction is otherwise nonexistent.
It's important to remember that marriage laws differ from state to state (or Commonwealth), and sometimes even from county to county. While it's possible that some marriage bureaus will make exceptions in light of current affairs, it should not be assumed that Skype weddings will be valid across the country, and officiants and couples should be cautious.
Ultimately, officiants should not perform any kind of remote or virtual ceremony without clear and explicit guidance from a county clerk or a legal expert - particularly one who specializes in family law. We've even consulted our own lawyers, and they agree that virtual ceremonies might not meet local requirements, so it's imperative that couples reach out to their local government or family law attorneys before proceeding with a Skype wedding.
Update September 2020: Since the publication of this article, some states have made special dispensations to allow couples to get married by zoom due to to the COVID-19 shutdown. For this reason, it is important that you check in with your local county clerk to see whether this is possible in your state. Below are some states that have allowed couples to do so.
New York has extended a slew of emergency orders through August 6, 2020. That includes weddings officiated remotely via videoconferencing technology like Zoom and Skype. The order extends the suspension and modifications of law, and any directives, not superseded by a subsequent directive, made by Executive Order 202.15 and each successor Executive Order up to and including Executive Order 202.21, and Executive Order 202.29, as continued and contained in Executive Order 202.39, for another thirty days through August 6, 2020.
On April 30, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed an Executive Order that will, through the month of June, allow couples to apply for their marriage license via video conference "at the discretion of county clerks."
Couples can also solemnize their marriage via video conference “as long as both parties are present, and have at least one witness who can join the live video conference.”
This order is set to expire at the end of June 2020.
Illinois Governor JB Pritzker issued an order giving couples the right to apply for their marriage licenses and solemnize their marriages via video conference, starting May 1, 2020.
Couples can get married utilizing two-way audio-video communication technology (Zoom, Skype, and other video conferencing platforms), but couples must still interact with their officiant in real time during the ceremony, which means no pre-recorded “I do’s". The couple must also show photo identification and attest to being physically present in the state.
New Jersey :
New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed Executive Order No. 135, which, effective May 4, suspends in-person requirements for receipt of a marriage license and marriage ceremonies. It authorizes couples to obtain their marriage license and/or have their marriage solemnized via video conference. It also suspends the 72-hour waiting period between the license application and issuance, extends the period that a license is valid from 30 to 90 days, and waives fees imposed for the issuance of a second marriage or civil union license if the original has expired.