Marriage on the Blockchain: from Bitcoin to Burning Man

We’re Getting Married… At Burning Man!

At least twelve miles from the nearest power line, gas station, or purveyor of goods, we, the couple in question, make our way toward a bleak, dry lake bed located a couple hours north of Reno, NV. Satellite images suggest little more than an alkaline wasteland, occasionally streaked with the ghosts of roads marked by travelers in years gone by, rent nearly invisible by the rains of the previous season.

Minutes turn to ages as we make our way up the lonely two-lane highway, inching closer to an entrance designed to admit sixty-five thousand attendees over the course of two days.

We’ve arrived early because we’re both here to help build Camp Decentral and its dome, in which talks on decentralization will be available for anyone to attend. Movers and shakers in the blockchain industry will literally be an arm’s length away, here, answering questions, and taking part in one of the greatest social experiments of modern times.

Cameron Gray and Matt McKibbin speaking to a crowd inside the Decentral Dome

Welcome to Burning Man, the annual festival of art, music, and ideas left unfettered by the skeptical eye of the status quo. Previous participants have shaped our global information infrastructure and idea economy with such diverse efforts as Google and Second Life, and have fueled alternative energy companies like Tesla and Black Rock Solar (which has improved the communities local to the event). The countless individuals who attend refer to themselves as burners.

The organizers have decided that the theme of the event is “Radical Ritual.” Jen Luker and I have come to create a radical ritual of our own, to be married, to have a ceremony during the event, and to have our marriage recorded on the Ethereum blockchain. Though this is Nevada, and definitely one of the most liberal events in the state, this idea had never been explored here before. History was to be made.

The Changing Institution of Marriage

Marriage as a social contract and as a financial contract — these two things are distinctly different. The current legal systems, steeped in history, are behind in their ability to keep track of or care for these partnerships effectively. Blockchain technology has the ability to move these unions into the future.

For the last couple centuries, incumbent power structures have required a sex or gender polarity for the creation of a marital partnership. In more modern times, the idea that “marriage is between one man and one woman” has rightly been called into question. Defining it by today’s standards requires one to look at the benefits and concerns of what it means to be in such a traditional partnership.

Marriage as a social contract: This is the concept of promissory trust that the partners will remain together, through the bad and the good. The factors required to maintain this side of the partnership basically boil down to honesty, and devotion. As we can all probably agree, mathematics, logic and reason are not of assistance in this arena, but there is another part to this dynamic.

Marriage as a financial partnership: Traditionally, when a social contract comes into question, the financial aspect has been pressed, wrung out, taken advantage of, and generally used as a weapon against both parties by accountants, lawyers, and other now superfluous middlemen.

The First Blockchain Wedding

It was October of 2014 and the first blockchain wedding was about to happen. There was basically one cryptocurrency, Bitcoin, and it had just endured a difficult valuation event, dropping from $1100 to $250 per BTC. Even though attendance was somewhat thinner as a result of this, the more intimate atmosphere of the event lent itself to the history that was to be made.

At Coins in the Kingdom, a Bitcoin conference that took place at Disney World, David Mondrus and Joyce Bayo were the first to have their marriage recorded on a blockchain. They organized the marriage with Bitnation, and vowed, “For better or worse, ’til death do us part, because the blockchain is forever.”

“We believe that like the blockchain, our love and marriage are forever and that our relationship is not defined by governments or the church. So enshrining our commitment to each other in the blockchain in front of our friends is very dear to us,” said Mondrus.

The first blockchain wedding ceremony

Bitnation’s former CMO Matt McKibbin was on hand for the occasion and explained how the wedding was recorded. There was a local ceremony, but at the same time, “the vows were embedded into the Bitcoin blockchain using the OpReturn function using a CoinOutlet Bitcoin ATM. This was a ceremonial event to discuss the powers of blockchain to record our records in a registry alternative to the one used by the state.”

“Blockchain marriages are ideal for couples who want to record their commitment to each other in a secure and permanent place, but whose relationship may not fit the current governmental system, or any governmental system at all. Some examples might be gay couples or polyamorous groups whose idea of marriage may not so easily conform to the current rules set by governments.” a press release from the couple stated.

Hudson’s Contract: The first Ethereum Marriage

Prompted by a tweet from Joseph Lubin, Hudson Jameson created and deployed the first Solidity marriage contract on the Ethereum blockchain. This occurred on the first anniversary of Jameson’s marriage to Laura Penrod.

Hudson and Laura on their wedding day

Rather than simply recording the event in plaintext, Hudson wrote a Solidity contract that allows for major life events to be recorded on the chain and can be queried to see the status of the relationship.

“On Ethereum, I can store proof of my marriage and update the data over time in a clean, human-readable interface that is easy to code and easy to read from the chain. To do the same in Bitcoin’s blockchain you would have to manipulate OP codes that the average programmer is not going to be familiar with, or use a third-party site to submit your transaction. Coding my marriage contract using Ethereum’s Solidity programming language was easy, and you can submit the transaction yourself rather than relying on a third-party, Bitcoin-based, proof-of-existence service.” Here, Jameson is quoted from the article Til Death Do Us Part, March 24, 2016.

The Lucky Couple at Camp Decentral

Fresh off saving millions of dollars worth of ETH from the Parity multisig hack, several members of the White Hat Group descended upon our camp at Burning Man and, upon learning of our impending nuptials, took Hudson’s contract a step further. In the midst of helping sett up Camp Decentral’s “Dialogues on Decentralization,” acclaimed Solidity developer Jordi Baylina took it upon himself to re-write Jameson’s marriage contract, additionally implementing the new Gnosis multisig.

One collaborator and fellow camper, known as psdev, who helped audit the code on this impromptu project outlined the differences in the two contracts:

  • The new project has had its source code verified on Etherscan. It has a powerful safety function, and allows the owner to be changed in case the owner’s private key is compromised.
  • This new contract allows only the owner to create major events, but also allows the public to add messages and donations to it, as long as the marriage is “active.”
  • Where the original was a system for a single party to document events. The new contract is “owned” by a multisig wallet, so any major events, or expenditures have to be agreed upon by both parties.
  • This particular multisig uses a “Two of Three” system, meaning that two of three “owner” parties have to agree for an event or transaction to take place. These three are the two betrothed and a trusted third entity, who can assist in separating the parties’ interests in the case of a force majeure.

This system seems to easily take care of a large percentage of the financial contract that comes with marriage. It allows for both agreement and disagreement to be mitigated without the use of outside arbiters and conceivably eliminates the need for state.

Griff Green, co-founder of Giveth.io as well as Camp Decentral said, “One of the things that Decentral is all about is that we don’t need to have a monopoly on things anymore. There used to be value in having monopolies — there was value in there being a single source of truth. But now, with blockchain technology we can have a decentralized source of truth. We have the tech now that allows anyone to notarize any document themselves, using any blockchain. With Ethereum, we can go even further, and make [contracts like this one] really fun to use.”

Just before leaving camp to perform the ceremony, the new, tested and audited Marriage Contract was deployed by Baylina on the live Ethereum network, making this the first blockchain marriage to occur at Burning Man. The live marriage contract here and its source code are available to be viewed by the public. You can also see the new Multisig Wallet here.

Jen Luker and Bowen Sanders’ wedding ceremony on Thursday, August 31st at Burning Man

When we decided to camp with the brilliant folks of Camp Decentral, we knew that we wanted to do something different and permanently enshrine our marriage on the blockchain. The original plan was to just send a transaction from one of our addresses to the other with a plaintext comment embedded into the transaction. Then I found out about Jameson’s contract. I brought a copy of the Solidity code with me in the hope that I might get some assistance making it work for us. I hadn’t even dreamed that once Jordi had found out what we wanted to do that he would, over the course of a couple days, find the time to put together such an amazing piece of code. I think that it is the best wedding present ever, and now we can share it with the rest of the world.

AFTERWORD

As of the publication of this story, any user can interact directly with the new SmartWed interface. You can see the dates of the wedding and contract deployment, as well as the number of times it has been verified on the blockchain. There is also a dropdown menu that lists all the couples’ contracts. As new marriages are deployed, I will be adding them to this index. You can post messages to the couples’ guestbooks as well as send donations.

The new SmartWed Interface

You can also interact with the contract using a Mist browser, or using MyCrypto. If you are already familiar with MyCrypto or MyEtherWallet, you need to use the contract interface, and input the JSON Contract ABI for this contract. That will allow you to query the contract, or leave messages.

Screenshot: MyEtherWallet Contract Interface

The contracts and the multisignature wallet are available now, and anyone who is interested can use the SmartWed interface. Feel free to contact me if you require any assistance.

Special thanks to Jordi Baylina, Griff Green, psdev, Craig Scheets, Matt McKibben, Hudson Jameson, and every single person at Camp Decentral for making this such an amazing burn for us this year!