Colorado to limit proxy weddings to service members, gov’t contractors

Ekaterina Dmitriev and a life-size cut-out of her groom,
cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko. The two married via proxy during a satellite
wedding while he was aboard the International Space Station; she was in Texas.(Reuters / Richard Carson )
Colorado is set to restrict proxy marriages to members of the military and government contractors, claiming the change closes a loophole that endangers national security. Critics say the current law isn’t being exploited.

State Rep. Joann Ginal, a Democrat, introduced the bill at the beginning of April to close a loophole in Colorado’s marriage laws that “pose a threat to our national security,” including “the very real risk of human trafficking,” she said in a statement. She also worries that the loophole could “jeopardize youth.”

"This [bill] will protect minors from human trafficking, increase our national security and ensure that only Colorado residents can receive a Colorado proxy marriage license," Ginal said.

The current law allows out-of-state US citizens, including minors with parental consent, to marry foreign nationals or incarcerated criminals who aren't eligible to marry in their own state via a proxy marriage. The only requirement is that one member of the couple appears before a judge in Colorado with a third party to act as the proxy for the person who is absent. Both the people present at the proxy wedding must have a valid ID when applying for the marriage license.

Colorado Rep. Joann Ginal introduced the proxy marriage bill (facebook.com/joannginalforcolorado)

“This law may seem mundane and harmless, but the implications of our proxy marriage law affect all Coloradoans,” Ginal wrote. “First, proxy marriages in Colorado pose a threat to our national security, as individuals who aren’t citizens of the United States can obtain marriage licenses and all of the benefits and protections that come along with it.

“Secondly, there is the very real risk of human trafficking. There is no requirement or ability to verify that the person not present for the marriage is entering into the marriage willingly and is not being exploited,” she continued. “Additionally, proxy marriage laws jeopardize youth by allowing individuals under the age of 18 to be married to both foreign and domestic adults. Lastly, this loophole is allowing people to bypass marriage laws of other states.”

Ginal’s version would limit proxy marriages to military members and government contractors who are stationed out of state or in another country. It would also require both members of the couple to be at least 18 years old, with one member of the couple being a Colorado resident.

Lawmakers are worried that the current proxy law can be misused for human trafficking and immigration fraud, according to AP.

However, Larimer County Clerk Angela Myers told the Coloradoan that, of the nearly 15,000 marriage and civil union licenses processed in the county since January 2014, there have been 19 proxy marriages, 11 of which appear to be military-related.

The marriage licenses show that proxy marriages in Larimer included county residents marrying out-of-state spouses and non-Coloradans marrying international residents, such as a Cheyenne, Wyoming man marrying someone from Germany, or a woman from Fort Wayne, Indiana, marrying a man from Saudi Arabia, the Coloradoan reported.

READ MORE: Targeting courthouses for immigration arrests creating ‘culture of fear,’ says ACLU

Denver Clerk Debra Johnson told AP that her office handles about 50 or 60 a year. She has only noted two marriages she found unusual. In the first, a Lebanese couple married in Colorado. The wife, who lives in Michigan, was in attendance, but her husband, an inmate in a Pennsylvania prison, was not. In the second, an Arizona woman married a Syrian man who lives in Turkey.

California, Montana and Texas also allow proxy marriages, but they’re limited to military couples. In March, an episode of NBC’s ‘The Night Shift’ featured a proxy wedding between a woman in San Antonio, Texas and her fiancé, who was deployed in Afghanistan. Colorado is currently unique because of its lack of restrictions.

S&B Inc., a Pennsylvania company that facilitates proxy marriages, has helped expedite more than 700 proxy marriages in Montana and Colorado over the 15 years it’s been in business, owner Sam Geller told AP. He said he resents lawmakers’ insinuations that couples who wed by proxy are trying to game the system in some way.

"There are many foreign residents who reside in war-torn countries facing hunger and starvation," he said in an email. Rather than creating restrictions, the state should be praised for giving couples "the opportunity to get legally married by single proxy in Colorado," he added.

HB15-1327 – Limit Proxy Marriages to Military and Contractors passed unanimously out of the House of Representatives today!Posted by Joann Ginal for Colorado House District 52 on Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Couples in proxy marriages are not automatically eligible for immigration benefits because they are generally not recognized under federal immigration laws, AP reported. Foreign nationals married by proxy must still go through the standard process to obtain legal residency or citizenship.

The Colorado Senate passed the bill with a 35-0 vote on Monday, after the House had previously passed the bill. Gov. John Hickenlooper (D-Colorado) is expected to sign the bill into law.