Wedding Planner

Why virtual marriages are no longer legal in New York

As devastating as the coronavirus pandemic was, there were a few bright spots: the dogs walked more; humans discovered take-out cocktails.

And “Zoom Weddings” have become a thing.

Virtual wedding ceremonies have become a symbol of enduring love during a difficult time when lockdowns restricted travel and large in-person weddings. They were a vital alternative that allowed couples in quarantine at home to digitally marry and invite guests from afar without worrying about theft or social distancing.

Some couples appeared at the digital altar in tuxedos and dresses, others in pajamas. They said their vows on terraces, in backyards, in bed, and even in hospital rooms, usually in front of an officiant on a computer screen.

But on June 25, the honeymoon was over. Although video weddings remained popular even after the pandemic restrictions eased and larger in-person ceremonies resumed, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has lifted the executive order he originally issued in April 2020 allowing couples to get married online.

The abrupt shutdown surprised couples, officiants and the fledgling cottage industry around virtual nuptials.

Suanne Bonan, owner of Officiant NYC, a business that organizes weddings, said the lifting of the order “really pulled the rug out from under our feet.”

“It was a good fallback and a lot of people liked it,” she said of the virtual option.

A spokesperson for Mr. Cuomo insisted that “the state is not preventing anyone from live-streaming a safe trip to city hall or your clergy office.”

“Get the shot, kiss your new spouse and dance the hora if you want – New Yorkers have worked hard to get to where we are now and we celebrate the return to normalcy every day,” the bearer said. word, Shams Tarek, in a statement.

Since the decree was intended for a state of emergency, new legislation would be needed to keep virtual marriages legal, Tarek added.

But getting married in person at Manhattan City Hall was not possible. The marriage bureau closed when the city closed in March 2020 and remained closed for walk-in weddings.

But Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Thursday that the city’s marriage office will reopen, a sign, the mayor said, that the city is returning to normal after the pandemic closes.

The marriage office will allow couples to book dates starting July 23 in the Manhattan office, said city clerk Michael McSweeney, who oversees the office.

Judge Alan D. Marrus, a wedding officiant in Brooklyn, said that during the pandemic, “virtual ceremonies have become an accepted practice that people have become comfortable with.”

“A lot of people prefer to get married this way because it’s quick, convenient and can include family members and friends from all over the world who cannot attend in person,” said Judge Marrus, a judge at the court. retired from the New York State Supreme Court and one of twelve retired justices who perform civil marriages for a company called Judges for Love.

Almost all of the company’s weddings since the start of the pandemic have taken place via video conference, Judge Marrus said, including the more than 200 he himself has celebrated. He had planned many couples for virtual ceremonies in the coming weeks.

When the order was lifted, Judge Marrus had to inform couples dating for virtual weddings that the ceremonies were no longer legal.

New York State law does not specify any particular form of ceremony, but states that a married couple “shall solemnly declare in the presence of a clergyman or magistrate and the witness or witnesses present that they are take for husband and wife ”.

Caroline Kunz, 28, and Frank Reiser, 31, a couple living in Greenpoint in Brooklyn, had planned a virtual wedding for their loved ones, including hers in France, to watch it online.

But a week before their July 3 date, their celebrant told them that the ordinance had been lifted and that they should get married in person.

The couple therefore rushed to change plans. Instead of a rented country house near Hudson, NY, they held their ceremony at Mr. Reiser’s parents’ Westchester home.

Their New York-based officiant, who charged $ 215 for the virtual ceremony, would now cost them $ 400 with travel costs to perform the ceremony in person.

The couple saved the day and even aired the wedding, with the celebrant included. But, said Mr Reiser, “We were surprised that this order was rescinded, especially at this time when there is still a travel ban.”

Alice Soloway, a wedding officiant based in New York City and the Hudson Valley, said she had had to turn down many couples who had called for virtual weddings after the order was lifted. She said she had hosted more than 100 virtual weddings since the start of the pandemic, more than double the number she typically officiates in person under normal circumstances.

“It has been a gift for so many couples during the pandemic,” she said. “I think this should be a permanent law because it allows personalized ceremonies for all people, whether they are elderly, disabled or wish to include families from all over the world. “

Like many New York State municipal clerks’ offices, the Marriage Bureau – which handles more than 100,000 marriage licenses and ceremonies a year – closed when the city closed in March 2020, leaving dozens of New York couples without access to marriage licenses. Many canceled or postponed weddings scheduled for spring and summer.

Mr Cuomo then issued an emergency order in April 2020 allowing the remote issuance of marriage licenses and allowing celebrants to perform ceremonies on video platforms like Zoom, as long as the couples were physically in the state of New York during the ceremony.

This allowed New York City in May 2020 to launch a program called Project Cupid offering marriage licenses online. When the state’s order was lifted last month, the bureau stopped offering dates for virtual weddings, forcing many couples in the city to hire private officiants to marry them.

Preeti Vaidya, a data science professional in Manhattan, and Dr. Madhav Sharma, a resident doctor in the Bronx, were introduced by friends in 2018 and had planned an elaborate in-person wedding with 250 people for May 2020. But at because of the pandemic, they canceled it and decided to get married in a virtual ceremony in July.

They dressed in traditional Indian wedding attire and Ms. Vaidya hired a henna artist for herself. In preparation for the ceremony, the couple and guests decorated their own homes and prepared the same meals.

About 100 guests – including friends and relatives in India and colleagues of Dr Sharma still dressed in scrubs during their break at a Bronx hospital – attended the hour-long virtual ceremony and stayed online during a virtual reception. two hours to watch choreographed dance videos of family members. and individually toast the couple.

“While we were obviously disappointed that we were unable to celebrate in person, a virtual wedding allowed us to have more intimate conversations and we were fortunate to receive blessings from each of our loved ones,” Ms. Vaidya.

For many wedding officiants, the ability to perform virtual ceremonies has helped them survive financially during the pandemic.

Judges for Love has performed up to a dozen virtual ceremonies per week, for an average fee of $ 250, depending on the circumstances.

Some have even thrived.

Ms. Bonan of Officiant NYC, whose in-person business starts at $ 400, charged a lesser fee of $ 300 for most virtual ceremonies, but has not run out of business. While her company typically handles around 300 weddings a year, she has hosted around 1,600 virtual ceremonies since the start of the pandemic, and she herself has performed around 400, she said.

Virtual weddings have welcomed the many couples who rushed to get married during the pandemic – some to be added to their partner’s health insurance policy, others to obtain immigration visas, and still others to to officially declare their love at a time when life was no longer taken for granted.

“There has definitely been a boom,” she said. “It was the most lucrative year I have ever had.”

Ms Bonan joked that during the pandemic she had become an “officiant on a stick,” in the case of couples who have chosen to say their vows in local parks in front of a computer placed on a tripod.

There were also “deathbed weddings,” she said, including a dying client who had the virtual ceremony from her hospital room, so her partner would be eligible for her death benefits. social Security.

Since New York was one of the first states to allow virtual weddings, couples have traveled here from other states and countries, Judge Marrus said.

There was the couple from New Jersey who drove right over the George Washington Bridge and then stopped and held the ceremony online in their parked car, he said.

Technical issues plagued some ceremonies, the judge said.

“Sometimes the signal was so weak that the video froze and there was a delay between picture and sound,” he said. “I told every couple that they were pioneers because they were the first couples to get married by teleconference who can say, ‘We got married on Zoom. “

Leah Weinberg, a wedding planner who owns Color Pop Events in Queens, said the need for virtual weddings may return.

Right now, many couples are asking guests to provide proof of vaccination or a negative Covid-19 test before attending ceremonies in person, she said.

“At weddings where it’s needed, people celebrate and get married again like nothing has happened,” she said. “But we wedding professionals are keeping an eye out for this Delta variant, in case the restrictions come back.”

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