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Is it possible to have a legal wedding in space?

For example, any of the following could answer the question:

  • Does any national law system explicitly define a specific process for validly performing a marriage in outer space?
  • Does any national law system provide a means for marriage officiants to lawfully perform a marriage at an arbitrary location outside of the territorial jurisdiction of the authorizing state (which could include space, even if not explicitly mentioned in the law)?
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    $\begingroup$ Not only is it possible, but it has already happened. $\endgroup$ – Arthur Dent Feb 5 '18 at 17:27
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    $\begingroup$ @ArthurDent that sounds like an answer! $\endgroup$ – Columbia says Reinstate Monica Feb 5 '18 at 17:28
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    $\begingroup$ @ArthurDent Technically, the marriage in that instance took place in Texas, but one of the parties was in space at the time. $\endgroup$ – called2voyage Feb 5 '18 at 17:31
  • $\begingroup$ @called2voyage Good distinction, but it's still worth mentioning. I could see a marriage being conducted in space but being under the jurisdiction of some place on the ground. $\endgroup$ – Arthur Dent Feb 5 '18 at 20:51
  • $\begingroup$ @ArthurDent Yes, but as of yet, that has not occurred, and it would require slightly different legal circumstances. $\endgroup$ – called2voyage Feb 5 '18 at 21:05
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Many jurisdictions recognize weddings performed out-of-jurisdiction provided that those weddings are legal in the jurisdiction they're performed in. Unfortunately, there's no legal authority with jurisdiction over LEO -- it's kind of a legal gray area.

Does any national law system provide a means for marriage officiants to lawfully perform a marriage at an arbitrary location outside of the territorial jurisdiction of the authorizing state (which could include space, even if not explicitly mentioned in the law)?

Marriage by proxy, as in the Malenchenko case mentioned by @PearsonArtPhoto, is legal in some jurisdictions:

In the United States, proxy marriages are provided for in law or by customary practice in Texas, Colorado, Kansas, and Montana[6][7][8] Of these, Montana is the only state that allows double-proxy marriage.[9] Proxy marriages cannot be solemnized in all other U.S. states.[10]

...but as @called2voyage points out, the marriage is performed on Earth.

There's a tradition of allowing ship captains to perform marriages at sea in international waters; those marriages are often but not always recognized:

In one well-known case, Fisher vs. Fisher, a court ruled that a particular marriage solemnized by a ship's captain was valid (and more generally that, absent a statute stating otherwise, an exchange of vows between two consenting parties constituted a valid marriage). In another case, Norman vs. Norman, a court came down on the opposite side of the fence.

Fisher vs Fisher was a 1929 case in New York state; Norman vs Thomson (frequently cited as Norman vs Norman) was an 1898 California case, but the wedding was invalidated because it was held that the couple married at sea:

for the avowed purpose of evading the statute of the state requiring a license and solemnization by an authorized person.

Given those precedents, I suspect that if the commander of the ISS performed a wedding of a couple of New York residents aboard, and it appeared that the marriage was entered into in good faith, that New York state would recognize the marriage upon their return home, and that the marriage would be thus recognized throughout the US via the full faith and credit clause of the Constitution.

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  • $\begingroup$ I was reading back over this and the double-proxy marriage in Montana is an interesting case, because both parties could be in space. However, the officiant would still need to be in Montana--at least, according to a strict interpretation of the law. I suppose it could be arranged to temporarily declare the space vessel to be under the jurisdiction of Montana. (Of course, then it wouldn't need to be a proxy marriage at all, and any state could do that in theory.) $\endgroup$ – called2voyage Feb 6 '18 at 14:03
  • $\begingroup$ @called2voyage: The ISS has a high enough orbital declination that it does occasionally pass through Montanan "airspace", which would make the declaration a bit more logical. However, the ISS takes less than 2 minutes to traverse the entire state west to east, so it'd have to be a quick ceremony. $\endgroup$ – Michael Seifert Feb 6 '18 at 14:13
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    $\begingroup$ The tradition with ship captains seems to be a bit of a myth skeptics.stackexchange.com/questions/6612/…. $\endgroup$ – Bent Feb 6 '18 at 15:25
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    $\begingroup$ @Bent That ship captains aren't legally authorized to perform marriages doesn't mean that there's no tradition of them doing so, as my cited legal cases indicate. As you can see in Fisher v Fisher, it was common for marriages performed outside the law but in good faith to be legally recognized. $\endgroup$ – Russell Borogove Feb 6 '18 at 16:27
  • $\begingroup$ @MichaelSeifert According to WP: "There is no international agreement on the vertical extent of sovereign airspace, with suggestions ranging from about 30 km (19 mi)—the extent of the highest aircraft and balloons—to about 160 km (99 mi)—the lowest extent of short-term stable orbits." By any such standard, the ISS is above any state's legal jurisdiction when passing overhead. $\endgroup$ – Russell Borogove Feb 6 '18 at 16:29
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After reviewing the Canon Law, it should be possible to get married in space in a way accepted by the Catholic Church. Many countries accept a Catholic marriage as valid into their own jurisdiction almost automatically (likewise those valid for other religions) but, most importantly, it should be acceptable on Vatican City.

Marriage is described in canons 1055 - 1165, and you would have to meet a few requisites, most interesting:

  • The groom, bride, witnesses and the ordinary, pastor or priest¹ would be in space.
  • At least one of the parties should be a subject within the jurisdiction of the ordinary/pastor.
  • The permission of the proper ordinary or proper pastor would be needed, so that marriages can be celebrated elsewhere [than the parish where one of them has their domicile or residence].

However, note that you could skip the pastor and marry with just the witnesses if no priest is available and is prudently foreseen that the situation will continue for a month.

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    $\begingroup$ Is space under the jurisdiction of any ordinary? $\endgroup$ – Columbia says Reinstate Monica Feb 6 '18 at 1:22
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    $\begingroup$ @RobertColumbia I interpreted it as including the space as one of the "elsewhere" where the marriage can be celebrated, even though you would first direct the request to the ordinary at your "local" jurisdiction. Specially if the parties are within the confines of their jurisdiction (per Can 1110). I wouldn't be surprised if there was an office in Vatican of "ordinary for regions without ordinary", though. $\endgroup$ – Ángel Feb 7 '18 at 22:50
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It may be possible. According to the Huffington Post in 2012, the Bahamas allowed for marriage in international waters as long as it took place on a cruise line registered in the Bahamas. I am not a lawyer, but theoretically, it may be possible for this principle to be extended to space, if the officiant had registered with the Bahamas with the explicit purpose to perform marriage in space.

Japan may have an explicit instance of allowing space marriage: the company First Advantage. This was offered in 2011 and no mention of legality was made.

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  • $\begingroup$ For your first example, it might depend on the legal definition of "cruise line". Perhaps a spaceship could be legally registered as a Bahamas cruise vessel, or a legally registered Bahamas cruise vessel could be launched into space on some sort of booster or as cargo inside of a larger spaceship. $\endgroup$ – Columbia says Reinstate Monica Feb 5 '18 at 17:33
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    $\begingroup$ @RobertColumbia Right, like I said, it may be possible. It just depends on how amenable the relevant officials are to interpreting the law in this way. $\endgroup$ – called2voyage Feb 5 '18 at 17:33
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Yes - as long as you sit in the right cabin.

The most important thing for answering this question - is determining whose jurisdiction a wedding would fall under. Especially when looking for how this may play out in the future - with deeper space travel.

The only permanently manned space vessel we have currently, is the International Space Station. As such, whatever agreements and laws are present here are likely to extend to any future space travel efforts.

In the ISS Legal Framework the jurisdictions are made clear:

The basic rule is that 'each partner shall retain jurisdiction and control over the elements it registers and over personnel in or on the Space Station who are its nationals' (Article 5 of the Intergovernmental Agreement).

This means that the owners of the Space Station - the United States, Russia, the European Partner, Japan and Canada - are legally responsible for the respective elements they provide. The European States are being treated as one homogenous entity, called the European Partner on the Space Station. But any of the European States may extend their respective national laws and regulations to the European elements, equipment and personnel.

As such, as long as you were in an area of the ISS (or other ship in future) that was owned by a government that would normally allow you to get married - you would also be able to get married there.

Side Note: While above I mention that you can get married, if you are in an area of the spaceship that is owned by a nation who'd normally let you get married - each nation has it's own laws regarding marriage in different territories. For example, every state in the United States has different marriage laws, and so without a law at federal level you may not actually be able to get married on the American part of the ISS. Similarly, if the Russians one day passed a law that specifically forbid space-marriage, you would not be able to from their areas of any space craft.

The specifics of which countries would or would not currently allow you to be married in space is too large for this answer. But the main point remains - if you did want to, the jurisdiction that decides whether you can, is whoever owns that part of the space ship.

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    $\begingroup$ Regarding your first section, I thought about answering the question in this way, but for the US at least, it is still a problem as the US section is not the jurisdiction of any state and marriages take place on the state level. I have no idea what Russian marriage laws are like--if you know, perhaps you can expand on that? On the second section, it is trivial to say "if any nations are OK, it is OK" but it would be helpful to provide examples. As has been pointed out already, Yuri Malenchenko's marriage actually took place in Texas, legally speaking; so it is not a valid example. $\endgroup$ – called2voyage Feb 6 '18 at 13:58
  • $\begingroup$ @called2voyage I've removed the second section, as I don't have any hard evidence to back up the sentiment - hopefully it's clearer as a more factual answer. For the first section, I feel commenting on specific nation's laws muddies the answer - which is that if you are in a section of a space craft owned by a nation, it is their jurisdiction and their laws will apply (how that applies with US states being different, I don't want to try to figure out). $\endgroup$ – Bilkokuya Feb 6 '18 at 14:02
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    $\begingroup$ Yes, it's stronger without the second section. Thanks! However, I feel it is still a little lacking without a discussion of whether any of the nations who extend their jurisdiction to space vessels actually have a process which would allow for a marriage on that territory. $\endgroup$ – called2voyage Feb 6 '18 at 14:05
  • $\begingroup$ @called2voyage Thanks for the clarification - I've tried to better address that at the bottom. There is definitely too much to cover in this specific question - but hopefully it's clear to readers that this may be an issue they'd need to look into if they ever wanted to act on the answer. $\endgroup$ – Bilkokuya Feb 6 '18 at 14:17
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    $\begingroup$ Ok, thanks for adding the note! I guess the existence of at least one nation (the Bahamas, see my answer) who allows marriages in international space (international waters) as long as it takes place on a vessel under that nation's jurisdiction is a good proof of concept here, and your point about the variability of national laws being too broad a scope is well made. $\endgroup$ – called2voyage Feb 6 '18 at 14:23
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Yes, and in fact, it has already happened. Yuri Malenchenko was married to Ekaterina Dmitrieva while he was on the International Space Station, and she was in Texas.

There are also a few services that are taking reservations to be married in sub-orbital flights, like First Advantage.

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    $\begingroup$ Your first example may be an example of an individual getting married while in space, but is not an example of legal marriage in space, which is what the body of the question makes clear that this post is about. $\endgroup$ – called2voyage Feb 5 '18 at 18:00
  • $\begingroup$ I'm not sure how much credit I'd put in the First Advantage offering having all its legal ducks in a row. If not, it'd be far from the first time a startup tried to act first and get legal cover afterwards. Even if their rocket partner had meet their deadlines they'd've had several years from that announcement to work on finagling legal cover of some sort. (Even assuming the fine print in the contract didn't say that they were just offering a ceremony, and that you had to do the make it official paperwork at a courthouse on the ground.) $\endgroup$ – Dan Neely Feb 5 '18 at 21:33

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