Love, American Style:
Marriage in the Metaverse
In what was surely a slow news day this week, the New York Times reported that a couple, with virtual avatars dressed in wedding garb, was married in the metaverse.
While some rightfully poked fun at the wedding as a bad copy of what people used to do in Second Life and other virtual communities (I was personally a fan of this tweet from someone who was married in Animal Crossing), it happened, the New York Times wrote about it, so here we are. Marriage in the metaverse is now a thing.
But from a legal perspective, is marriage in the metaverse a legally-binding one? The short answer is that if your metaverse marriage is also done legally in real life, then there’s nothing stopping virtual marriage from being a new incarnation of love, American style.
My wife and I got married in Animal Crossing, where’s our article??? pic.twitter.com/uczpfccwDQ
— Cristaly the Ruthless (@nintendette_) December 8, 2021
New York’s marriage requirements are similar to those of many other jurisdictions. Getting married in New York is a relatively simple process, involving the following steps:
Fill out a marriage application.
You and the person you want to marry must appear together, at the same time, at the town or city clerk’s office to complete the processing of the license and to receive the license.
You must wait at least 24 hours after receiving the license to get married, unless a court gives you permission to get married without waiting.
Until recently, virtual marriages were legal in New York, but this was an exceptional thing. While the Times describes these virtual pandemic weddings as “a symbol of love persevering in a trying time,” Executive Order No. 202.20, which empowered the New York City Clerk’s office to allow couples to apply for a marriage license online and have a virtual wedding ceremony using video conference technology with a legally appointed and licensed marriage officiant, explored on June 25th.
Under this executive order, it would have been very easy to meet the qualifications to marry in the metaverse, had you found an appointed and licensed marriage officiant to marry you and your partner through the virtual representation of your IRL selves. To be clear, the officiant would have needed proof that the two physical people in our universe assented to be married. Then there’s no reason why an officiant couldn’t also be present as a metaverse avatar and ask those (here is the key) identity-confirmed avatars whether they take each other’s hand in marriage.
Yet even today, there is still an easy way to get around all of this and legally get married in the metaverse. You just need to be sure to check off the legal boxes. The technology is already there to get married in, say, a private ceremony in New York, while at the same time having the same wedding conducted in virtual form in the metaverse. While the latter would hold no legal weight in the former, the fact that you’ve done both covers your real world and metaverse bases.
Lauren Scardella, a New Jersey lawyer, sees that the metaverse can become one of the possible dimensions in which a legally enforceable marital relationship can exist:
“If a marriage in the metaverse is deemed to be legal, any property belonging to the parties is part of the marriage. The law won’t distinguish between the car you drive to work, your bank and cryptocurrency accounts, and any other digital assets. This could absolutely include assets you create and possess in the metaverse.”
This would require the legal system to get used to new things, which it does reluctantly. We as individuals adapt better and faster than the system of laws and regulations that surround us and inform our choices. As Jill Marie Wilson, Chief Marketing Officer for Esquire Digital, explains, the attention this metaverse wedding has drawn shows how hungry we are to learn about new things:
“When any new concept becomes viral on social media, it shows that people want to learn more about the concept- there’s a lot of speculation around the metaverse and apprehension. A metaverse wedding is novel for people and captures their imagination because it’s a compelling mix of the old- a concept they understand, marriage- and the new.”
While some people will always be happy with traditional marriage ceremonies, others will always push the boundaries in how they want to get married. From getting married while jumping out of a plane, to getting married by a robot, to getting married on a forklift, finding new ways to tie the knot has long been a fun quest for adventurous couples.
The metaverse is just one more place where representations of who you are can be joined together in marriage. So the law will need to find creative ways to follow the technology and make it possible to give avatars walking down an aisle in the metaverse the same weight as two people getting married while crossing the finish line of a marathon. In the end, love might conquer all, even in the metaverse.
Aron Solomon, JD, is the Chief Legal Analyst for Esquire Digital and the Editor of Today’s Esquire. He has taught entrepreneurship at McGill University and the University of Pennsylvania, and was elected to Fastcase 50, recognizing the top 50 legal innovators in the world. Aron has been featured in CBS News, CNBC, USA Today, ESPN, TechCrunch, The Hill, BuzzFeed, Fortune, Venture Beat, The Independent, Fortune China, Yahoo!, ABA Journal, Law.com, The Boston Globe, NewsBreak, and many other leading publications.