With the increased use and awareness of artificial intelligence and chatbot sites, the way individuals interact with technology is changing at an unparalleled pace. In recent months, news sites have published reports about individuals falling in love with (and in some cases 'marrying') their AI partner.
Although such reports may seem extraordinary, they do invite consideration of the nature of the marriage/ civil partnership contract and the circumstances when marriage or civil partnership is not possible.
Can you marry your AI partner in Scotland?
Unsurprisingly, in short, the answer is no.
The Marriage (Scotland) Act 1977 details who can marry in Scotland, and the formalities of registration etc. It is unlikely that the drafters of the 1977 Act would have envisioned a day when we would be asking the question about individuals marrying their robot partner. The meaning of marriage is set out in s.4 of the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Act (2014) which outlines that marriage may be between two persons of different sexes or between two persons of the same sex, emphasis (if it is required) on the term 'persons'. Lest there be any doubt, only sentient human beings can marry in Scotland. But a marriage will be defective if parties lack the legal capacity to marry, are not eligible to marry or, if there is no consent to marry. These are known as the "impediments to marriage" and an individual in Scotland who wished to marry their AI partner would be unable to do so as the AI is neither a person nor would it be capable of understanding what marriage means or consenting to the marriage in question. In terms of Scots law, therefore, one cannot marry a robot, nor any other inanimate object.
However, there are certain "degrees of relationship" which permit marriage and some which do not, which may surprise many!
Forbidden degrees of relationship
In Scotland, the Marriage (Scotland) Act 1977 sets out the "forbidden degrees of relationship", meaning individuals in certain relationships are forbidden to marry.
- relationships of consanguinity;
- relationships of affinity; and
- relationships by adoption.
Those who are within 'relationships of consanguinity', including parents, children, siblings (including half-siblings), grandparents, aunts and uncles, nieces and nephews and great-grandparents are prohibited from marrying. It is, however, possible in Scotland for cousins to marry. The evolution of new methods of conception (whilst addressing the painful spectre of infertility for many) has also resulted in, perhaps unforeseen possibilities where the law may require to be amended. In very specific circumstances, it would appear that there is no obvious barrier to a genetic mother marrying their child. Where the fertilised ovum of a genetic mother (an egg donor) is transplanted in the womb of the birth mother, the birth mother is treated as the child's parent in law and not egg donor. The resultant child cannot marry the mother who gave birth to them, although they are not genetically related, but that child could (theoretically) marry the donor who is genetically related to them, as they are not legally considered the child's parent. Children born as a result of egg, sperm or embryo donations made at a UK licenced clinic after 1 April 2005, are now entitled to find out the identity of their donor, once they reach the age of 18. Those individuals who donated before 1 April 2005 will not have any information capable of identifying them shared with children conceived through their donation, although they can waive their right to anonymity.
Those in 'relationships of affinity' are not entitled to marry in Scotland. This includes people related by marriage or a civil partnership, for example the child of a former spouse or civil partner, former spouse or civil partner of a parent, former spouse or civil partner of a grandparent or grandchild. However, step-siblings are permitted to marry. If Woody Allen had wanted to marry Soon Yi Previn in Scotland, the marriage may have been forbidden, given that Allen was previously married to Previn's adopted mother, Mia Farrow. However, there are some qualifications which allow parties in certain relationships of affinity to marry in Scotland e.g. Woody Allen's marriage to Soon Yi Previn, would have been lawful in Scotland if both Allen and Previn were over the age of 21 at the time of the marriage and Previn had never lived in family with Allen and had not been treated as a child of the family. While the circumstances of each individual case will dictate whether parties may marry, in circumstances like those of Previn and Allen, in Scotland, questions would be raised (and their ability to marry assessed) when the couple meets with their local Registrar to give notice of their intention to marry.
Those in adoptive relationships fall into the final prohibited category so that an adoptive parent or former adoptive parent cannot marry the adopted child or formerly adopted child. Adopted siblings are free to marry unless they are biologically related.
While these rules will only apply to a very small number of marriages, it is nonetheless fascinating to understand who can and cannot marry according to the law in Scotland.