U.S. Coast Guard Oral History Program
A Marriage By Proxy
By Coast Guard Petty Officer 2nd Class Allyson Taylor Feller
By definition, a proxy marriage is one where someone stands in for the other party. These types of marriage are rare; they are only legal in four states and usually a sign of the times during war or conflict.
They used to be immensely popular during feudal European Days. King Louis XVI of France and Marie Antoinette were married by proxy. A generation later, another French ruler, Emperor Napoleon married Archduchess Marie Louis by proxy as well.
As for such a marriage in the United States, it is usually reserved for war time. California’s law is limited to those who are serving in the armed forces and are deployed for conflicts or wars. Colorado stipulates that if the bride or groom can not appear due to illness or are otherwise outside the state, they may assign power of attorney to have someone stand in. Both Montana and Texas merely say if one person can not appear, he or she may appoint someone to stand in that place.
Washington does not recognize marriage by proxy. But on the evening of August 8th Pacific time, and the morning of August 9th in Bahrain, the state made one exception for Coast Guard Seaman Michael Christensen and his new bride, Jennifer Rivard.
Due to extenuating circumstances, Rivard’s father looked into the idea of marriage by proxy and his command helped him with the legalities in Bahrain, Chief BMC Arturo Howard said. “To help [him] succeed at his mission here, it is important that he has his mind at ease knowing that [everyone will] be taken care of.” he said.
The county and state agreed they would recognize the marriage by proxy this one time due to the circumstances when Rivard’s father inquired about it at the Yakima County Courthouse and asked what could be done to help the two. On the other side of the world, Howard and Lt. William Preston looked into how to help.
On a different continent and through multiple times zones, technology gave a hand in performing the ceremony. The bride was surrounded by her family in Sunnyside, Wash., and Christensen was surrounded by his friends and co-workers on the Naval Base in Manama, Bahrain along with Navy Chaplain Lt. Reon Enriquez. Through an internet connection, a web cam for everyone to see each other and a cellular phone to hear, family friend Bill Eikenbary presided over the marriage ceremony from Washington that joined the Seaman and his new bride as husband and wife.
Eikenbary spoke of the importance of the marriage vows the two young people were taking that day. The importance of the family they were becoming together and the extended family on hand.
Christensen said before the ceremony that he was a little nervous, but was also excited. Both emotions came to life as his turn to say “I will” had to be encouraged by Enriquez with a fatherly tap on the shoulder and gentle reminder, “That’s you. Say ‘I will.’” His bride on the other hand was quick to respond a very cheerful “I will.” The vows were said, the rings placed on the bride’s hand by her father, Jim Rivard, and the groom’s ring was placed on his finger by Coast Guard BM1 Class Mark Punt.
At the end of the ceremony, among laughter, Rivard’s mother jokingly reminded her new son-in-law the shot gun was still under the counter. He responded with a very respectful, “Yes, Ma’am.” It was all in fun as the laughter erupted from everyone.
“This is an extremely rare case,” said Chaplain Enriquez. “This is something that has not happened on this base before. My job was to ensure all of the legalities were taken care of here and there. I am glad it worked out for both of them and I wish them luck.”
“We were going to get married when I returned home anyway,” Christensen said. “I am glad that I was able to do the right thing. It is a relief knowing she will be taken care of. And it feels wonderful to call Jennifer my wife,” Christensen said with a beaming smile.
Christensen is a part of the deck force department of the Coast Guard stationed in Bahrain. It is his department’s responsibility to keep the six patrol boats here maintained and mission ready. The Coast Guard works closely with the Navy and Coalition Forces in Maritime Security Operations. They work to protect the waters of the Persian Gulf and the security around the Iraqi oil platforms.