Gay and lesbian troops wanting to marry their partners, but unable to afford the cost of flying from one part of the country -- or the other side of world for that matter -- to a jurisdiction where marriage equality is the law may have another option – proxy weddings hosted by countries like Brazil.
Proxy weddings are nothing new. A proxy wedding is one where one or both people getting married are not physically present. There have been a number of weddings done via Skype or other internet means over the last dozen years as U.S. troops deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan decided they want their back-home partner as a spouse.
George Andrews is the operations manager for a company that helps couples set up these proxy marriages and specializes with military couples. Proxy Marriage Now, located in Fayetteville, N.C., next to Fort Bragg, arranges geographically separated wedding events for people for just under $1,000.
The company works with Brazil, a country which not only permits proxy weddings; it recognizes same-sex marriages. Brazil also allows for double proxy weddings, ones where neither person being married is physically in Brazil for the wedding. A marriage license from Brazil is considered valid by the Defense Department, Andrews said.
Thirty-seven of 50 states in the U.S. do not currently allow same-sex couples to get married. The Defense Department acknowledged Wednesday that this would pose a challenge for same-sex military couples looking to get married.
The Pentagon announced Wednesday that same-sex couples would receive equal benefits as straight married couples starting on Sept. 3. In the announcement the military also issued a policy allowing up to 10 days of non-chargeable leave to servicemembers who need to travel to a state or country that allows gay marriage.
The servicemember must live at least 100 miles from a state that recognizes same-sex marriages, according to the policy. Those living in the continental U.S. will qualify for up to seven days of non-chargeable leave, and those living outside the U.S. will quality for up to ten days.
However, the policy doesn't take into account the massive travel bills to make these trips possible. Lori Hensic, a woman who recently married her Marine Corps partner in Calfornia, feels for the junior enlisted who are not making much money but need to travel far to legally marry their same-sex partner.
"The 10 days of leave helps immensely, but what if they live in Hawaii? The travel costs to California alone are exorbitant," she explained.
Hensic has told all American Military Partner Association members living in non-equality states that her home is always open to them for free as a way to mitigate travel costs should they travel to California to get married.
For those couples hoping to save money or get married sooner and collect the benefits before having a more formal ceremony later, the proxy wedding could serve as a solution, Andrews explained. That way, if a soldier in Japan wants to marry his partner in Alaska -- both places that do not recognize same-sex marriage -- they can Skype it in through surrogates in Brazil.
"We've done them for same-sex couples all over the world," George said. "We've had a few [military] couples, gay and lesbian couples."
Several U.S. states do allow proxy marriages -- Montana even permits the double-proxy wedding-- but one person has to be a state resident or in the military. Montana also does not allow for same sex marriages, Andrews said.
California and New Jersey are two states that not only allow proxy marriages, and also have marriage equality, but one of the people being married has to be in the military in a combat zone, according to Andrews.
Colorado and Texas also allow single-proxy weddings. Neither are marriage-equality states, however, and Texas is soon going to adopt provisions making proxy weddings legal only for servicemembers in a combat zone, Andrews said.
Asked to comment on the double-proxy wedding scenario, Pentagon spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Nate Christensen quoted the statement released Wednesday by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel: The Defense Department "will work to make the same benefits available to all spouses regardless of whether they are in same-sex or opposite-sex marriages, and will recognize all marriages that are valid in the place of celebration," the statement reads.
-- Amy Bushatz contributed to this report.