With crowd restrictions and business closures putting a forcible halt to wedding plans, couples are quickly looking to the innovative concept of the virtual wedding ceremony as the solution to their Coronavirus wedding woes.
However, a lot of terms regarding virtual wedding ceremonies are being used rather loosely in reporting and discussion, creating some confusion – especially when we’re talking about legality and marriage laws, and for those who aren't technically savvy. In the last month we’ve had questions about everything from Skype weddings to self-solemnizing ceremonies, and there are some important technicalities that need to be addressed, so let’s break it down and do our best to clearly define and understand these relevant terms.
A rite that legally unites a couple in marriage as they physically appear together before an officiant (civil servant, minister, etc.) to exchange their vows of commitment.
This simply means that the ceremony is being broadcast live, opposed to uploading a recorded video to be watched and shared later. To livestream just means that you’re sharing what’s going on in real time via internet. You can livestream any activity or event, and it doesn’t matter where you are, what you’re doing or how many people are physically present with you. Some of the most popular platforms include Skype, Zoom, Google Hangouts, Facebook Live, and Instagram Live.
For folks planning on livestreaming their nuptials, Here’s How to Livestream Your Wedding.
This term is being used broadly, but the most important thing to note is whether or not the officiant is physically present.
A virtual wedding ceremony can mean that it's simply a livestreamed wedding ceremony, where the couple is physically present with their officiant and witness(es), and they're just broadcasting their ceremony for others to watch from afar.
Example: An AMM Minister recently performed a livestreamed virtual wedding ceremony. The minister, practicing social distancing, stood six feet away from the couple to officiate, and they broadcast the ceremony live via Zoom and FaceTime so that family members as far away as England could watch.
But it can also refer to a wedding ceremony that is officiated via video conferencing platform, and the officiant is not physically present. The couple exchanges their vows together from one location while their officiant telecommutes from a different location and presides over their wedding via Skype, Zoom, FaceTime, etc. and their guests - also beaming in from other locations and devices - witness the ceremony and celebrate remotely.
Example: In 2010, when a couple in Texas had their officiant in Washington, DC perform their ceremony via Skype, their marriage was declared invalid.
Important: Depending on where you live, a Skype ceremony might be possible, but marriage laws vary across the country, and many of them could prevent these kinds of ceremonies from being legal.
A unique marriage ceremony where one or more of the persons getting married is unable to physically appear before the officiant. A proxy marriage requires a power of attorney and a real, live individual standing in for one (or more) of the absent parties – and the absent party is not the officiant. Each state has different laws regarding marriages by proxy, and most of them restrict proxy marriages to members of the armed forces and individuals with extenuating health issues. A proxy marriage is not the same as a Skype ceremony.
Example: Anyone remember Yuri Malenchenko’s famous satellite-beamed proxy marriage ceremony, when he married Ekaterina Dmitriev over a teleconference screen while serving aboard the International Space Station in 2003?
A self-uniting marriage means that the couple presides over their own wedding ceremony, and no officiant or witnesses are required to sign the marriage license. Guests are optional. Whether or not you can perform your own marriage ceremony depends entirely on the regulations in the state where you are getting married, and only a few handful of states allow self-uniting marriages.
Example: This couple in Colorado (one of the states that permits self-solemnizing marriages) opted for an intimate self-united marriage ceremony with just the two them and a photographer to capture them sharing their vows atop a mountain at sunrise.
...as you can see, there’s a pretty big difference between inviting your guests to simply get dressed up and tune into your livestreamed ceremony with your officiant present, versus having your officiant attempt to perform the ceremony from afar via Skype.
But why is this important?
Well, marriage laws can be unclear to begin with, and they are further complicated by the fact that they aren't up to date with current technological capabilities. Some states like New York have realized that drastic times call for drastic measures, and quickly made exceptions to the old rules. Others, however, like Hawaii, have issued statements making it very clear that Skype wedding ceremonies are not permitted.
We want everyone – couples, especially – to be informed and make sound decisions at this time to avoid additional stress or complications in the future. If you are considering officiating or having someone officiate via virtual platform in a state that does not have clear policies regarding online wedding ceremonies, we urge you to proceed with caution, and to first seek the counsel of your local marriage bureau officials or an attorney who specializes in family law.
Here is a current list of states where you can - and can't - get married or perform marriage online.
In the meantime, stay safe, stay healthy, and keep following us here on American Weddings for all of the latest updates.