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Love in The Time of Coronavirus: Canceled Weddings

The following article was originally published March 19, 2020, and republished through a collaboration with KPCC and LAist.

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Story by Sharon McNary

 

 

Alison Escarcega and Joseph Valenzuela couldn't get a marriage license because the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder/Clerk's office in Norwalk is closed to the public. | Sharon McNary/LAist
Alison Escarcega and Joseph Valenzuela couldn't get a marriage license because the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder/Clerk's office in Norwalk is closed to the public. | Sharon McNary/LAist

Social distancing has closed government offices and many banquet venues, and made most of us avoid gatherings. It's a triple-whammy hitting couples who are planning weddings — and the wedding industry itself.

Alison Escarcega showed up with her fiancé Joseph Valenzuela this week at the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder/Clerk's office in Norwalk. They hoped to get a marriage license in advance of their wedding in mid-April. They live in Santa Ana but had already been turned away at the Orange County Clerk's office, which was closed.

"So now we came over here," she said. But the L.A. County office was also closed to the public.

Now, she's not quite sure how they're going to swing the wedding unless public offices find a way to verify couples' government ID to issue a marriage license while keeping workers and the public from infecting each other.

"They just want our passports and I.D. That's OK. They don't have to, like, touch us," she said, laughing.

County warehouse worker James Thomas was out front telling couples they wouldn't be able to get a marriage license or go through with their long-standing wedding appointments at the county's wedding chapel.

"It's just disappointing them," he said. On Monday, the first day of the closure, some couples showed up in formal wedding clothes but were turned away at the door.

(On Wednesday, a spokesman for the Orange County office said they were looking into finding a non-contact alternative for couples to obtain their licenses.)

Monterey Park mom Christine Almada has been planning her daughter's wedding for nearly a year. A few days ago, she reached out to us asking if weddings could still go on.

The last few weeks have been a white-knuckle roller coaster of doubts as public health experts kept tightening restrictions. But eventually she realized that even if the wedding could go on, many older relatives couldn't or shouldn't attend.

"I also have nieces that are in their late forties, and they weren't going to be able to come because they have respiratory issues such as asthma," Almeda said. The wedding is now rescheduled for next February.

Widespread cancellations means the wedding industry is also taking a beating.

Michelle Garibay Events in Murrieta was swamped this week with couples hoping to exercise the cancellation clauses in their vendor contracts. The company arranges destination weddings, so things can get pretty complex.

"Our job as planners is to provide support and empathy and to help guide them through with whatever they decide," said owner Michelle Garibay.

Wedding planners are often small businesses that get paid per-wedding, so no wedding, no cash flow.

"Some of my colleagues may not make it out the other side of this if too many of their weddings decide to cancel," she said.

She added that when things go back to normal, all those cancelled wedding couples will have to compete for venues and services with all the couples who got engaged during the coronavirus outbreak.

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