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No groom? No problem. But lawmakers seek proxy wedding limit

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DENVER (AP) — In Colorado, couples can get married with only one of the parties present for the occasion, a holdover from the Vietnam War that allowed soldiers to marry their sweethearts while deployed.

Even though there's no evidence the law has been misused, county clerks worry it could be a national security risk and are asking lawmakers to limit proxy weddings.

To have such a union, one person goes to a clerk's office with identifying documents for both parties, passports and birth certificates will do, along with a two-page notarized affidavit declaring the bride or groom's absence. The missing party designates a stand-in, and there can be a wedding.

California, Montana and Texas allow proxy marriages, but they're limited to military couples. Colorado has no such restrictions, making it unique — and risky, clerks say.

They worry about human trafficking or immigration fraud, concerns that have prompted lawmakers to draft legislation restricting proxy weddings to military personnel and government contractors.

"A lot of times we're so reactive," Sen. John Cooke, a Weld County Republican and bill co-sponsor, said.

The proposal cleared the House unanimously last week, and it cleared its first Senate committee Wednesday on a 5-0 vote. The full Senate will now consider the measure.

Couples in proxy unions don't get automatic immigration benefits, since foreign nationals who marry U.S. citizens must go through a standard process to obtain legal residency or citizenship. In fact, such marriages generally aren't recognized under federal immigration law.

The Colorado County Clerks Association doesn't track proxy wedding statistics, but Denver Clerk Debra Johnson says her office handles about 50 or 60 a year.

That includes some cases she considers unusual. In one, a couple from Lebanon married in Colorado, though the bride lives in Michigan and her husband is locked up in a Pennsylvania prison. In another, an Arizona woman married a Syrian man who lives in Turkey.

There's been no indication of wrongdoing, but "suspicion of these types of weird marriages" has led Colorado lawmakers to seek new limits, Sen. Leroy Garcia, a Pueblo Democrat and bill co-sponsor, said.

Not everyone wants to see such changes, however. Sam Geller, owner of S&B Inc., a Pennsylvania company that facilitates proxy marriages, says he resents the suggestion that couples in proxy marriages are up to no good.

Geller says that in 15 years in business, his company has helped facilitate more than 700 marriages in Montana and Colorado involving people in the military, prison inmates and international couples.

"There are many foreign residents who reside in war-torn countries facing hunger and starvation," he said in an email. He added that the state should be praised for giving couples "the opportunity to get legally married by single proxy in Colorado."

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