A proxy wedding or (proxy marriage) is a wedding in which one or both of the individuals being united are not physically present, usually being represented instead by other persons. If both partners are absent a double proxy wedding occurs.
Marriage by proxy is usually resorted to either when a couple wish to marry but one or both partners cannot attend for reasons such as military service, imprisonment, or travel restrictions; or when a couple lives in a jurisdiction in which they cannot legally marry.
Proxy weddings are not recognized as legally binding in most jurisdictions: both parties must be present. A proxy marriage contracted elsewhere may be recognised where proxy marriage within the jurisdiction is not; for example, Israel recognises proxy marriages abroad between Israelis who might not have been permitted to marry in Israel. Under the English common law, if a proxy marriage is valid by the law of the place where the marriage was celebrated (the lex loci celebrationis) then it will be recognised in England.
Beginning in the Middle Ages European monarchs and nobility sometimes married by proxy. A well-known example more recently involved the marriage of Napoleon I of France and the Austrian Archduchess Marie Louise in 1810. There was another proxy wedding that occurred at Eltham on 3 April, 1402 between Henry IV and Joan, the daughter of Charles II, King of Navarre. Another famous example is the marriage of Mary, Queen of Hungary to Louis I, Duke of Orléans in 1385. Catherine of Aragon wed Prince Arthur by proxy in 1499. A famous 17th-century painting by Peter Paul Rubens depicts the proxy marriage of Marie de' Medici in 1600. By the end of the 19th century the practice had largely died out.
As of 2015, various Internet sites offer to arrange proxy and double-proxy marriages for a fee, although the service can generally be set up by any lawyer in a jurisdiction that offers proxy marriage. Video conferencing allows couples to experience the ceremony together. A unique "space wedding" took place on August 10, 2003 when Ekaterina Dmitriev married Yuri Malenchenko, a cosmonaut orbiting the Earth in the International Space Station, by proxy in Texas, USA.
In the United States, proxy marriages are provided for in law or by customary practice in Texas, Colorado, Kansas, and Montana Of these, Montana is the only state that allows double-proxy marriage. Proxy marriages cannot be solemnized in all other U.S. states.
In 1924, a federal court recognized the proxy marriage of a resident of Portugal, where proxy marriages were recognized at the time, and a resident of Pennsylvania, where common-law marriages could be contracted at the time. The Portuguese woman was allowed to immigrate to the United States on account of the marriage, whereas she would have been inadmissible otherwise due to being illiterate.
During the early 1900s, United States proxy marriages increased significantly when many Japanese picture brides arrived at Angel Island, California. Since the early 20th century, it has been most commonly used in the United States for marriages where one partner is a member of the military on active duty. In California, proxy marriage is only available to deployed military personnel. In Montana, it is available if one partner is either on active military duty or is a Montana resident.
Mexico and Paraguay both offer proxy marriages for a fee. Proxy marriages through the consulate of Paraguay in Tel Aviv are recognized by Israeli law.
Italy permits proxy marriages to Italian soldiers in times of war. Canada ended any form of proxy marriage where one or both spouses are not present, with the exception of men and women in the Canadian armed forces. This became effective on June 11, 2015.
Catholic Canon Law permits marriage by proxy, but requires officiants to receive authorization from the local ordinary before proceeding.