With a red embroidered veil draped over her dark hair, Punam Chowdhury held her breath as her fiance said the words that would make them husband and wife. After she echoed them, they were married. Guests erupted in applause; the bride and groom traded bashful smiles.
Just then, the Internet connection cut out, and the ceremony abruptly ended.
Normally one of the most intimate moments two people can share, this wedding took place from opposite sides of the globe over Skype. Chowdhury, 21, an American citizen, was in a mosque in New York. Her new husband, Tanvir Ahmmed, 31, was in his living room with a Shariah (Islamic law) judge in his native Bangladesh.
Such proxy marriages--legal arrangements that allow couples who are apart to wed, even if one or both spouses are not present--date back centuries. One of the most famous was between King Louis XVI of France and Marie Antoinette, who were first married in her native Austria in April 1770 in his absence; a face-to-face wedding took place a month later at the Palace of Versailles in France. *
Proxy marriages are widespread in Muslim countries, where the Koran has long been interpreted to explicitly endorse it.
In the U.S., it's been relatively rare. Only a few states permit proxy marriage, and most require one partner to be in the military. But it's now on the rise, especially in immigrant communities. The U.S. generally recognizes foreign marriages if they are legally con ducted abroad and don't break any laws here. The Chowdhury-Ahmmed wedding technically "took place" in Bangladesh, where it was legally registered.
George Andrews of Proxy Marriage Now!, a company in Fayetteville, North Carolina, that arranges such unions worldwide, says that technology like Skype is driving the growth of proxy marriages. Andrews says his seven-year-old company now arranges about 400 to 500 proxy weddings a year, many of which don't involve people in the military.
Andrews says couples choose proxy marriages for a variety of reasons. Some use them to get around local laws, like those in Israel and other countries that recognize mixed-religion marriages but won't perform them. Couples who live in different countries may seek marriage to pave the way for a visa or citizenship for a spouse. And proxy marriages make it easy for immigrants to marry people from their homelands without the expense of matchmaking trips abroad.
But the increasingly popular practice is raising concerns--primarily...