Tom Kennedy declared: "We are gathered today...
There's one thing. These two women who exchange vows aren’t the brides. These two women are actually stands-ins for a actual bride or groom thousands of miles away. How is this possible? This is because of a Montana law that allows "double proxy marriage", which is a legal ceremony where neither party sets foot in Montana.
"Everywhere I go people just say, 'Double proxy marital? What's that?'" Peg Allison is the Flathead County Clerk and District Court Judge since 1993. She oversees all legal marriages. Peg Allison was almost a decade into her tenure when she was contacted by a lawyer to find a creative way for couples to wed.
"I believe I said to him, literally, on the phone: 'You're kiddin’ me?' Luke Burbank was informed by Allison.
Since Montana became a territory, the law has been in force. This law was likely to allow young miners who had come west to work to marry their love back home. Today, at least one person must be a Montana resident or active military member to get married.
Allison stated, "It is a completely strange piece of code and as far I know, there aren't any other states in the Union that allow double proxy."
It's a huge business here in Flathead County. This picturesque corner of Treasure State is home to eighty percent of all weddings. Two-thirds of them are by double proxy.
"In 2019 we did 1,200," said Allison. "Then COVID hit. So in 2020, we went from 1,200 per year to 4,200 each. Then, in 2021, we did 4,300 more.
Armed Forces Proxy Marriages is run by Tom Kennedy and Teresa Kennedy from their Big Fork home. This is one of a few companies that can perform these marriages.
They said that they had been attending around 40 weddings per week before the pandemic. Tom said that COVID made it so insane that the phone wouldn't stop ringing. "I told Tom, "10:00 PM at night, shut off the phone." We were not getting any rest."
Teresa stated, "We weren't functioning." It got crazy.
Burbank asked: "How many of these marriages did you facilitate last year?"
Tom responded, "Close to 2000, I believe." It becomes too much work to count.
The Kennedys will assist a couple to file the paperwork necessary to legally marry in Montana for $750 It might seem odd to walk down the aisle but Rachael Francioni was able to make it work for her and Michael. They got married in March last year, before he deployed.
"We received an email congratulating us! Francioni stated that you were married in Glacier Park's majestic mountains. Francioni added, "My mom was in the kitchen and she put a paper towel on my side and began singing the small wedding song!"
Rachael can be legally married and get more information about her husband's location when he is deployed. There are also other benefits to marrying in the military. One is getting a Basic Housing allowance, which helped Jacob Sifert, and Amina Kamau to save enough to buy their first home.
Sifert stated, "For us as couples who are just starting out, it sounds, well, you can make it sound trite, that this financial aspect was important to us, however, that really helped us out."
Amina was a political campaigner when they were married in December 2018. Jacob was stationed in Korea at the time. They took the plunge with Teresa and Tom's support.
Amina wasn't ready to tell her family she had gotten married in Montana via the internet. My mom had to wait for me to tell her that I had kept it secret, but she knew that we had goals, a vision and knew that we were one another's person when we made it happen.
"My dad was like, "Oh, that's great!" She laughed.
Tom Kennedy said, "I love it. You are in the moment and acting as a substitute for someone. We feel it is our patriotic duty to do something like this.
This is so much so that Tom, Teresa and Rachel Bodick perform vows for their clients even though it's not required by law.
Tom: "Does Teresa, acting as a proxy for Ryan Weaver take Miranna Bass to become your wife?"
Teresa: "I do."
Tom: "Does Rachel, acting as Miranna Bass' proxy, accept Ryan Weaver as your husband?"
Bodick stated, "I felt truly honored to be asked to do this," "because it means the entire world to the people we're marrying." It's so easy for me to do."
Teresa Kennedy and Rachel Bodick were there on Sunday morning to say "I-Do" for five couples.
Peg Allison, who had not heard of the law before, now has a problem: double proxy marriages are so popular that her office may have trouble keeping up.
"We should probably stop the interview here so that you don't have any to air - this could pose a problem for me!" She laughed. "It could pose a problem in my office, as I have a lot to do!"