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E-Marriage Project: Over-Hyped, But Still Important

With only 5 states allowing gay marriage, it’s hard for LGBT couples to get married. But e-marriages might change that.

John Wright from the Dallas Voice reported last week about two men who got married while physically in Texas, even though the state bans gay marriage. The marriage ceremony was officiated via teleconference by a D.C. official. Nevertheless, the couple did have to travel to D.C. to get their license beforehand.

Legal Effects

E-marriage sounds exciting, but it won’t do much legally. At the end of the day, an e-marriage is just another marriage.

To be sure, e-marriage will not suddenly make gay marriage legal in states where it is illegal. Instead, the point of e-marriage, advocates say, is to make it easier for gay couples to get married no matter where they live.

Yet, unless the couple lives in New York (which recognizes out of state gay marriages), an e-marriage license will have no legal effect where the couple lives. Professor Mae Kuykendall, Director of the E-Marriage Project at Michigan State University Law School, recently explained:

For controversial marriages, states that do not recognize them would still be able to refuse recognition.

So what’s the point?

While e-marriage isn’t a solution to the marriage inequality for LGBT couples, it still benefits these couples just by making marriage, even legally ineffectual marriage, easier. I’m reminded about what I read in Making It Legal, a book by attorneys Hertz and Emily Doskow. It talks about the non-legal benefits of gay marriage:

I’m constantly struck by how often couples tell me that getting married has transformed their relationship, giving them a social recognition by their family and the wider community as well as an emotional solidity that they previously lacked. There’s a lifting of a mantle of disregard and oppression that may have created an atmosphere of invalidity, in ways that many partners had not even been fully aware of. There is the imprimatur of social approval, the resonance of emotional commitment, and the security of legal interconnectedness, all of which work together to strengthen the relationship.

If e-marriage laws make it possible for gay couples to get married in any jurisdiction, without ever having to physically travel there, then couples could realize these non-legal benefits even as the legal ones elude them.

[Cross-posted at the Gay Law Report, where I discuss LGBT laws and related news.]

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Gideon Alper

Gideon Alper