Generally speaking, a proxy marriage is a wedding in which one or both of the individuals being united are not physically present, and perhaps are being represented instead by other persons (“proxies”). If both partners are absent a “double proxy marriage” occurs.
During COVID-19, proxy marriages have proliferated because lockdowns and international travel restrictions have made it harder for couples to get to the same place to marry.
Other reasons for proxy marriages include separation due to military service, imprisonment, or travel restrictions; or when a couple lives in a jurisdiction in which they cannot legally marry (e.g., Israel, where only religious marriages are allowed).
Most U.S. states do not allow proxy marriages. But Utah does. The officiant must be present in the state of Utah, but the couple may reside and be physically present out of state. The marriage license application can be signed electronically. The ceremony can be held over video conference. For more, see the website of the Clerk/Auditor of Utah County, Utah on “Getting Married via Video Conferencing in Utah.”
U.S. immigration law generally follows the ancient legal maxim of lex loci celebrationis, under which a marriage will be recognized as valid if it was valid in the jurisdiction in which it was performed. Matter of W-, 4 I. & N. Dec. 209 (BIA 1950).
But there is one caveat. The Immigration and Nationality Act does not recognize proxy marriages unless consummated, i.e., unless the couple has had “marital relations” after the ceremony. The statute provides:
The term “spouse”, “wife”, or “husband” does not include a spouse, wife, or husband by reason of any marriage ceremony where the contracting parties thereto are not physically present in the presence of each other, unless the marriage shall have been consummated.
– INA 101(a)(35), 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(35)
The State Department further explains:
A marriage where one or both parties was not present (proxy marriage) is not valid unless the marriage was consummated.
(1) Consummated: For the purpose of issuing a visa to a “spouse,” a proxy marriage that has been subsequently consummated is deemed to have been valid as of the date of the proxy ceremony. A proxy marriage consummated prior to the proxy ceremony cannot be considered a valid marriage for visa adjudication purposes unless it has been consummated subsequently.
(2) Unconsummated: A proxy marriage that has not been subsequently consummated does not create or confer the status of “spouse” pursuant to INA 101(a)(35)…. [A] party to an unconsummated proxy marriage may be processed as a nonimmigrant fiancé(e). A proxy marriage celebrated in a jurisdiction recognizing such marriage is generally considered to be valid; thus, an actual marriage in the United States is not necessary if such alien is admitted to the United States under INA provisions other than as a spouse.
Evidence of consummation could include evidence that the parties were in the same location on a particular date after the marriage (e.g., airplane tickets, hotel bills, photos taken together) and a declaration (without graphic details) explaining that the couple had “marital relations.”
The New York Times recently reported on an a man from the United Kingdom denied admission to the U.S. because his marriage had not been consummated. His girlfriend had visited him in UK, become pregnant, and then returned home to Texas. They subsequently had a Utah County wedding over Zoom, after which he tried to fly to the U.S. to visit her but was turned away because they had not consummated the marriage after the wedding. With an unconsummated proxy marriage, he did not qualify for the “spouse” exception to the COVID travel ban. Happily, he applied to the U.S. Embassy in London for a “national interest exception” to the COVID travel ban on humanitarian grounds, was approved, and was able to fly to the U.S.