Spring is traditionally the wedding season, but due to coronavirus, in 2020 it has become quarantine season. We understand a lot of people are having to weigh postponing their service indefinitely or just flat out canceling it for now. There are of course many couples that want to push through and get hitched anyway.
One of the best things about being a ULC minister is that you have a lot of flexibility for how to hold a ceremony. It needn’t be in an expensive church hall that had to be booked months in advance; you can perform one last minute from a 4th story window if you want. During this shutdown period, many ULC ministers are being asked to provide their officiant services, social-distancing style. We've been seeing an influx of questions about quarantine wedding ceremonies.
What if the couple video-conferences me so I can perform it from the safety of my home? What if we hold it online but physically mail the marriage license to everyone to sign it? Can I get a marriage license from a different state if mine is not currently issuing them? Etc. These are all great questions.
The Basic Requirements
Let's start with the basics. In order to perform a legally binding wedding, all of the following requirements must be met. If even just one of them is absent, the marriage will not be solemnized:
- The couple has picked up their marriage license. The clerk is aware of the location of the ceremony and is authorized to issue marriage licenses for it. In most states that means the wedding must be in the same county as the clerk.
- You have contacted the local marriage authority regarding any possible requirements for ministerial documentation and can submit the appropriate paperwork to them if need be. Please be aware that amid coronavirus shelter-in-place restrictions, the ULC is only fulfilling orders for Classic Wedding Sets with the option of adding on a Letter of Good Standing. These documents should satisfy the most common requirements across the United States and orders typically ship about 2 business days after they are placed.
- You, the couple, and any witnesses required by the marriage license are able to physically meet while abiding by social distancing rules as well as gathering size restrictions. You have a safe method by which to have each person fill out and sign their respective part of the marriage license to limit contact.
- You are able to submit the completed marriage license back to the issuing clerk before it expires. This is crucial. Even if the couple was able to pick up the license and hold the ceremony, if the clerk’s office closes down before you submit it back, then the ceremony doesn’t count. Different states have different timeframes on when the license is considered valid. You can check out our wedding laws map for information on your state.
Ceremony by Skype, Zoom, FaceTime
Video conferencing platforms have literally been lifesavers in allowing us to stay connected with one another during social distancing. While it’s a great way for guests to attend a quarantine wedding, it unfortunately cannot be used as a platform to perform actual the ceremony. Per rule 3, the couple, the minister, and possibly some witnesses need to be physically present for the ceremony to be legally binding.
While that is the case, you can absolutely still hold a small, socially-distanced ceremony and broadcast it to guests via Zoom or another video chat service. As the minister, you should officiate from at least 6 feet away from the couple and the witnesses should also spread out. Make sure you are setting your video conferencing device in a spot where observers can see you and the couple.
We highly recommend not having anyone there that isn’t legally required, even if they are young and healthy. You wouldn’t want your special day tainted by the potential of you endangering a loved one. Plus, the magic of video conferencing provides a great solution to guests being able to share in the moment from the safety of their own homes.
Update 4/20/2020 -- New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced on Saturday that his state will now allow legal weddings to be performed via videochat:
Marriage By Proxy
We are very impressed with the level of research we’ve seen with our ministers and some have even asked us about a potential workaround to quarantine restrictions known as 'marriage by proxy. This allows someone to stand in for 1 party of the couple so a ceremony can be conducted in their absence.
However, this option is limited to only a handful of states: California, Colorado, Texas and Montana. Additionally, the stand-in must be the pre-established power of attorney for the member of the couple they will stand in for so they can sign the marriage license after the wedding. The minister, one member of the couple, any potentially required witnesses, and the proxy stand-in must all physically meet for the service. Currently, no state allows the officiating minister to have a proxy stand-in.
A lot of couples are understandably disappointed about not being able to have the wedding they had been planning. Even if it can’t be a legally binding ceremony, some are still looking for some levity and solidarity during this trying time. That's why symbolic ceremonies serve an important function in the world of weddings. Keep in mind that even when there’s not a pandemic, some couples choose to have a purely symbolic ceremony with their friends and loved ones, and then have the legally binding part handled at a different time and place. Indeed, this is common for many destination weddings performed by ULC ministers outside the United States.
So if a legally binding ceremony isn’t a safe option for couples right now, make sure they know that they can still enjoy a lovely wedding. Taking advantage of video conferencing, the ceremony can be broadcast live to friends and loved ones. The couple could even record a short movie they can edit and polish before sending out to people.
While it’s interesting to think about a future where remote/virtual weddings are a thing, we haven’t yet reached that point. We encourage our ministers to think creatively and smartly about conducting weddings during coronavirus. Just remember those 4 rules and put each of your ideas to the test with it.