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Why where you live in Ontario matters if you want to get married in the pandemic

Some brides and grooms who had to postpone their long-awaited weddings in this unprecedented time are grieving, others are getting creative about getting hitched despite the virus.

As some couples grieve their dream wedding, others get creative to make it happen

London, Ont. couple Marnie Drinkwalter and Angelo Reis were set to get married on May 23, but had to postpone the date until next year due to the coronavirus crisis. (Supplied)

Marnie Drinkwalter was supposed to be married to her fiancee Angelo Reis in front of 90 close friends and family on May 23, until the coronavirus scuttled the couple's plans. 

Now, on what was supposed to be the big day, Drinkwalter will be staying home and likely turning off her phone. 

"I took the week off," she said. "My full plan for those five days is to just spend it with my family and not think about it. I'm pretty sure I'll be turning off my phone because everyone will be messaging or calling or asking questions and I don't think I'll be able to handle that very well."

Drinkwalter is among thousands of brides and grooms who've spent months meticulously planning their nuptuals only to have those plans snatched up in an instant by the coronavirus crisis. The epidemic shows no signs of letting go soon, leading to frantic phone calls to florists, venues and guests to make new plans and, in many cases, push the ceremony back. 

"I didn't cry or anything until all of the calls were made, after all my vendors had called to confirm that it had been switched to next year," she said.

"Then I kind of just locked myself up for a day and a half and I was like 'I don't want to deal with anybody' and I cried a lot."

"It's stressful, mostly because I have to constantly explain it to people," she said. "I feel like having to constantly explain it over and over again is harder than actually having to postpone the wedding itself."

'People are grieving'

Many couples have had to put off their wedding weeks, months, a year or more because of the coronavirus crisis. (Supplied)

"People are grieving," said Reverend Jodi Hall, an inter-faith officiant in London, Ont. "There's grieving alongside of letting go of what they imagined this to be."

Hall said since the epidemic began, weddings, in the way they're traditionally thought of, have become too dangerous. Those often involve a large gathering of family and friends who cross generations and sometimes travel long distances and even international borders, making it easy to spread a pathogen like COVID-19. 

Keeping loved ones safe is why most couples are pushing their perfect day back to the fall, winter, even next year. That's especially hard when the chosen date held special significance. It's why some brides and grooms are having trouble adjusting to their new reality. 

"People are having to pivot directions in ways they never imagined," she said. "They are letting go of significant moments."

Why location matters for a pandemic marriage

Reverend Jodi Hall performs a wedding ceremony in 2019 for Michelle and Ashley at Wildflowers Farm in St Thomas. (Jenn Eggleston Photography )

Some couples have to let go of the prospect of marriage completely, due to the way marriage works in Ontario. In order to be legally married in Ontario, a couple must obtain a licence. Without one, the union isn't legal and whether you can still get one in the pandemic depends on where you live. 

For example, while the City of London is not issuing marriage licences during the pandemic, the nearby City of St Thomas is. It's by appointment-only and city officials there will only grant licences to two couples per day. They go to the back of the building where they're instructed to wait. An official then checks their identification and asks them wait outside while the city prepares the license. You don't even have to be a resident of St Thomas. 

It's proven incredibly popular. A city official said, as of Friday, St Thomas City Hall was booked solid until May 19.

"We're one baby step away from curbside pickup," she said. "We're getting people from all over." 

While it's all perfectly legal, some would argue that it's neither fair, nor is it what the doctor ordered. Health authorities and Premier Doug Ford are urging people not to travel to other communities for non-essential reasons.

What's more, five people need to be present in order to make the marriage licence official. The document must be signed by the couple, the officiant and two witnesses. It means weddings are still legal under lockdown, but only if those five people follow proper physical distancing requirements and somehow manage to get a license. 

"That's why I think people are getting confused. They're seeing ceremonies taking place," Hall said. 

"The trick and the nuance that we're trying to navigate that makes it really difficult and very confusing for engaged folks to figure out what the next best step are."

Hall said it's not just confusing for couples, officiants are having a tough time too. The various ministries of faith have given their officiants different direction depending on the faith in question. As a multi-faith officiant, Reverend Jodi Hall said the mixed messages from authorities at all levels has led to confusion and debate.

Even officiants are confused

"There's debate on whether a wedding is an essential or non-essential service," she said. While the law is clear that people can still be married during a pandemic, it's far more murky when it comes to liability.

"It's hard to get a straight answer on whether or not I'm responsible for that as the person who has made that gathering possible for the sake of a legal ceremony."

Because of that, many officiants have limited the weddings they perform to emergency ceremonies only, cases that involve imminent death, birth or even immigration issues. 

For non-emergency weddings, some officiants aren't taking any chances. While they'll marry a couple, they make sure all five people present are taking proper precautions, something that creates another hiccup. 

"That's not a great look for a ceremony, for everybody to be wearing masks gloves and to be standing six feet apart from one another," she said. 

Hall said as the wedding season gets into high gear, the province has yet to say when exactly it might ease restrictions that are keeping people from being married. Until it does, she said, determined couples will find a way. 

"People will find a way. They're going to move through the loopholes available to them."

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this article stated that the province has banned groups of five or more, when in fact the province has banned groups larger than five people.
    May 11, 2020 10:49 AM ET

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Colin Butler

Video Journalist

Colin Butler is a veteran CBC reporter who's worked in Moncton, Saint John, Fredericton, Toronto, Kitchener-Waterloo, Hamilton and London, Ont. Email: colin.butler@cbc.ca

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