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Coronavirus makes the matrimonial “I do” complicated

It’s spring…and that means love is in the air.

Sadly, COVID-19 social distancing directives have dramatically affected the wedding industry across the country.

Under Ontario’s Marriage Act, a valid marriage requires that a couple possess a license, a wedding officiant, and two witnesses. Specifically, the wedding must take place “in the presence of” the officiant and the witnesses. All five people are expected to be at the same location.

Cathy Davis operates a team of 13 licensed officiants, serving Niagara and the Golden Horseshoe, for weddings and funerals (often referred to as “life celebrations”). All are ordained ministers who perform services that are mostly non-religious, celebratory, and more personalized than what the clerk at a municipal town hall could offer. She told the Voice that business is not blissful.

“In March I had 285 weddings slated, and now I have lost at least 115 either to cancellations or postponements,” said Davis.

“I am finding it difficult to read articles on websites and in the news indicating that it is possible to do a Zoom wedding, with the officiant and witnesses only connected via the internet. These arrangements may be acceptable in the United States, but they are illegal in Canada,” she said emphatically.

Davis is concerned for the wedding vendor community, fearing that many businesses will go under.

“I know a local photographer who went from 30 to three weddings this year,” said Davis.

Officiants are still able to do live weddings with the five essential people present, and broadcast the service on Zoom or Facebook in real time for the guests at home. Funerals are the exception to the five person rule, in that 10 people including the officiant are allowed to be present.

Davis says that she knows of only two municipalities issuing licenses at this time. One is St. Thomas, and the other is Toronto. At both locations, it is by appointment only. Wedding licenses are not available online. Pelham Clerk Nancy Bozzato says that the Town will soon start taking license appointments, possibly as soon as this week.

CBC News recently noted that “micro-weddings” of fewer than 20 guests were already becoming popular in parts of the country prior to the COVID-19 shutdowns, and there appears to be a surge in elopement requests as well.

“Many of our weddings have been postponed to 2021,” said Davis. “Obviously, there is no crystal ball. Over the last couple months, we have spent a lot of time calming couples in despair. They are despondent because they may have been engaged for two years already, and they’ve been excitedly looking forward to their wedding. But many of them are not willing to tie the knot without their friends and family present. Some have selected colours for a spring wedding, and so they have rebooked a whole year ahead. But who knows what could happen in a year? The bride could be pregnant and not able to fit into her wedding dress. Who knows, right?”

Most officiants, florists, wedding photographers, and venues have retained deposits, and have decided to rebook weddings with no penalties. As small business owners, many have been able to receive some COVID-19 support funding, and have deferred mortgage and car payments.

“May is traditionally a busy month, but September is prime time. We do 20 percent of our business in September. That’s pretty much indicative of the industry,” said Davis.

Davis said that couples who have postponed their marriages are well-advised to rebook for 2021 or 2022 as soon as possible, in order to lock in their preferred dates, venues, and wedding vendors.