As of Sept. 3, spouses of gay servicemembers are eligible to receive the federal benefits and privileges that married heterosexual spouses have always received: including access to health care, housing benefits, and family separation allowances. Same-sex couples just need to bring their marriage licenses to the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System (DEERS) and they're good to go.
But, wait. Say you're one of the 32,000 active duty servicemembers stationed in Hawaii, which is one of the thirty-seven states in the U.S. that does not currently allow same-sex couples to get married. Despite the thousands of weddings held every year in Hawaii, a gay servicemember stationed in Hawaii would have to travel 2,500 miles to California in order to obtain a valid marriage license. While the D.O.D. has offered to give gay servicemembers 10 days of free leave in order to travel to states that allow gay marriage (a policy that conservatives say "discriminates" against heterosexual couples), it is both costly and difficult for many servicemembers, especially lower enlisted.
Enter proxy marriages. Proxy marriages, which have been around since Napolean married Marie-Louise in 1810, are when either one or both parties are not physically present. Several U.S. states allow proxy marriages, according to Military.com, but of those that also allow same-sex marriages (California) one of the people being married has to be a military servicemember in a combat zone. Brazil, however, hits the trifecta: it recognizes same-sex marriages, allows double proxy weddings, and its marriage license is considered valid by the U.S. State Department.
According to Military.com, "For those couples hoping to save money or get married sooner and collect the benefits before having a more formal ceremony later, the proxy wedding could serve as a solution ... That way, if a soldier in Japan wants to marry his partner in Alaska -- both places that do not recognize same-sex marriage -- they can Skype it in through surrogates in Brazil."
To help you imagine what a strange, but awesome, experience proxy weddings are, read Maile Maloy's touching short-story, "The Proxy Marriage," which was published in The New Yorker last year.