9 Things to Consider if You’re Getting Married Right Now in the Middle of the COVID-19 Pandemic
Now that we’re firmly in spring, and many states are still restricting movement and gatherings, it looks as though most 2020 couples who were planning a large traditional wedding celebration, or destination wedding, are having to re-evaluate what they want their wedding day to be like in light of a global health pandemic.
As an officiant and a microwedding expert, I have been in the fortunate position to be able to help so many couples who, at no fault of their own, find themselves trying to navigate a new path. I wanted to share my discoveries on how I have been advising my couples on how to set up for a wedding ceremony and celebration and also provide the answers to the questions I am being asked right now:
1) Valid Marriage Licenses
Pennsylvania- Virtual Marriage Licenses
Several Pennsylvania counties have pivoted to provide (on a pilot basis) a virtual option for applying for a marriage license. For the most part this entails an online portal to submit documentation like ID and application, followed up with a video call with a clerk, then a valid marriage license is sent in the mail to the couple. In Pennsylvania, a valid marriage license issued by any county can be used anywhere in the state for 60 days. If you are in this position of needing to be legally married now, check out BUCKS, MONTGOMERY, DELAWARE counties—they are offering virtual application processes without residency or emergency stipulation requirements.
2) Virtual Ceremonies
New York State was the first to announce an executive temporary order, “Project Cupid” which allows couples to not only apply for their marriage license through a fully online process, but to also legally marry in a virtual ceremony with a qualified officiant. The couple, officiant and two witnesses all need to be physically located in New York State at the time of the ceremony.
For information about virtual weddings in New York here.
California has also instituted a temporary online marriage license application process and authorization for virtual video conferencing wedding ceremonies. Just like in New York, the couple, officiant and one witness need to be physically located in the State of California at the time of the ceremony.
There is no word on if these options will continue permanently, and professional officiants are trying to figure out the best way to collect signatures of the couple and witnesses to complete this paperwork. If you go this route, please be kind and considerate to the marriage bureau clerks and your professional officiant, everyone if figuring it out as we go.
Virtual Weddings Everywhere Else:
While many states are starting to offer options for applying for a marriage license virtually, there is no legal mechanism to also solemnize the marriage and conduct a legal ceremony virtually—the couple and the officiant must be in the same physical location. But there are a few ways you can get creative with how to meet the legal requirements for ceremony while also keeping your circle tight.
Scenario 1: Meet in person with officiant earlier in the day to do the legal part, and then later, while gathered with your family, Zoom or FaceTime in the officiant to conduct the meaningful ceremony with personalized vows, virtually. This might be easily described as a “front porch license signing.”
Kelly Rose Photo
Scenario 2: Arrange a private elopement ceremony in a location where the couple and officiant can maintain safe physical distance from each other and invite your guests to witness your ceremony and vows virtually through Live Stream.
Celebrant Alisa Tongg hanging with the family who attended an elopement ceremony via Live Steam, Love Me Do.
3) Groupings by Household for Outdoor Ceremony
Kelly Rose Photography
In the event that you opt for a microwedding gathering instead of an elopement, when setting up for ceremony, make an extra wide aisle. If guests will be seated while witnessing the marriage ceremony, place ceremony chairs in clusters by household, where each cluster is at least six feet away from other clusters. We’ve been working with our Promise Ridge microwedding couples the week before their ceremony to identify households and those who need to maintain their physical distance from the rest of the group, within their guest list.
4) Adjust Ceremony Elements
Instead of ring blessings, passing the sign of peace, handfastings and other ceremony rituals that require guests to intermingle in close proximity with each other, or touch the same item, include ceremony elements like Signing the Marriage License, a Tree Planting, Unity Beer Blending or a community vow of support–all rituals and actions that can be done while maintaining everyone’s personal space.
5) The Officiant Stands to the Side of the Ceremony Space
Julie Floro Photography
The officiant is one of the only vendors for whom wearing a mask while performing just doesn’t make sense. In order to help maintain a safe physical distance from my couples and their families, I have changed where I stand during ceremony so I don’t have to wear a mask. Instead of standing in the traditional spot—between and in front of the couple–I am now standing off to the side for outdoor ceremonies. When I am officiating a ceremony at Promise Ridge, I am standing off of the ceremony platform entirely but close enough to still be heard. If a couple feels more comfortable with their officiant wearing a mask, they’ll need to make arrangements for a microphone on a stand to amplify the officiant’s words.
6) Ask a Friend to Officiate No one knows how long we’re going to have to be mindful about crowd size, and if these restrictions continue through the summer, couples may want to prioritize a close friend or family member being at their microwedding ceremony instead of an outside professional officiant. The good news, is that my new online class is designed to help lay officiants do a good job at this task.
The Wedding Ceremony Master Class is online, can be completed in about an hour and includes my tried and true questionnaire (so the uncle officiant has a lot of APPROPRIATE material to pull from), a starter ceremony (so the friend officiant doesn’t waste time cobbling together awkward scripts from the internet) and my primer on VOWS for the couple. And at the start of 2021 I’ve updated the class to include a BONUS video lesson on “How to Officiate During the Pandemic”.
With all the uncertainty right now with the restaurant industry, (take out, individual plates, family style, buffet woes etc.), the original desire remains—we want to celebrate by sharing a special meal with loved ones. My suggestion while we are still in the middle of this pandemic and trying to figure out how to return to these communal meals and moments, is that couples forego a wedding banquet (for now!) and instead opt for a simple cake + cutting ceremony with a champagne toast.
Madeline Isabella Photography
Everyone can keep safe distance from those outside of their household while still sharing in the wedding ritual of cutting a cake and eating something sweet together. With everyone standing and spread out in a manner that each person is comfortable in, speeches and toasts can also be done in this configuration while not being a constant visual reminder of the crisis.
Storytellers & Co maintaining a safe distance while photographing
One of the most compelling draws of having a microwedding is soaking in all the intimate and genuine relationships with everyone gathered. Speeches and toasts to the couple are a natural way that guests can express their love for the couple on this momentous occasion. I recommend that couples ask a handful of the most important people in their life to prepare some formal remarks. Recommended time frame to give people time to prepare a toast or speech is 6 weeks.
8) Consider Making a Commitment to Each Other
Oxford University study: changing the way our social networks are structured—rather than simply reducing the amount we socialize—could be effective in flattening the curve.
If you don’t want to be physically distant from your own families on your wedding day, consider making a commitment to modify your behaviors in the 14 days leading up to the event. Inspired by New Zealand’s approach to lifting restrictions as well as my own family dynamic with shared custody, if everyone who is to attend your nuptials takes care to isolate their household members and use safety precautions when having to go out into public (maintaining 6-feet of physical distance, wearing masks, washing hands etc.) then everyone can feel safe and comfortable being close and maintaining each other’s health during your celebration.
As a celebrant, I am currently working on creating a Social Bubble Commitment Ceremony for when Stay at Home Orders are lifted and we, as a society, slowly start expanding our social circles again.
9) Practice Safe Vendors!
Wedding vendors, photographers, videographers, catering servers etc., wear masks when possible, use hand sanitizer often, and most importantly, communicate with other professionals to maintain physical distance from other vendors providing a service at the gathering.
Chef Kara Snyder prepared elegantly boxed individual dinners for a social distanced family dinner after ceremony.