Celebrants express shock and anger after couple's lockdown wedding

Belinda Feek, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Sun, 12 Apr 2020, 3:48pm
Ariah and Ben McCarthy married in their backyard this weekend. (Photo / Sylvie Whinray)
Ariah and Ben McCarthy married in their backyard this weekend. (Photo / Sylvie Whinray)

Celebrants express shock and anger after couple's lockdown wedding

Belinda Feek, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Sun, 12 Apr 2020, 3:48pm

A furore has erupted among the country's wedding celebrants after a North Shore couple were allowed to tie the knot at their home despite the nationwide lockdown.

Jeff Montgomery, the Registrar-General for Births, Deaths and Marriages, is standing by his decision to let the couple go ahead with their special day, sending an email to all celebrants today stating it is up to them and their clients if they decide to get married during the 4-week lockdown period.

Ariah and Ben McCarthy originally had their April 11 wedding day postponed. However, after some persistence from Ariah's mother, Montgomery gave them the all-clear to hold the wedding in the front yard of their North Shore home as long as they adhered to 2m distancing rules and had hand sanitiser nearby.

However, the Herald has today been contacted by many concerned celebrants saying they had cancelled their weddings much to the upset of many people but wanted to stick to the lockdown rules.

Wellington celebrant Miranda Zander didn't believe a wedding was essential.

She felt sorry for all the people who have not only had to cancel their special day but more so, she felt for people affected in other ways, especially those who can't attend funeral or tangi.

"I don't think it should be allowed and I don't know where that falls or whether that falls with the celebrant or the issuing of the licence but you're effectively breaching two bubbles by doing it. The bubble with the couple and the bubble with the celebrant and maybe the photographer or who else was there. It just doesn't look good.

Zander runs a private Facebook page for about 600 of the country's celebrants to network.

She had been inundated with feedback this morning.

"I'm getting a lot of messages from celebrants and people in the industry being outraged and there's people telling me that they're getting rung by clients who are angry that they had been turned down.

"I don't think weddings are essential or an essential service so the flipside is, yes I feel really sad for people who want to get married and my heart goes out to them but I'm fortunate that all of my couples who were getting married are all reasonable and don't want to do it at this time.

"We can't have funerals at the moment and that is heartbreaking, we can't have people at people's births in hospitals and if you put it in perspective a wedding should be a day of celebration."

She said a lot of people were running scared because two of the clusters were the result of weddings.

In his email to celebrants today, Montgomery said it wasn't up to him to decide if weddings should go ahead or not.

"Weddings have occurred recently, for example when one of the couple is about to pass away, or because of religious requirements.

"It is up to the couple and the celebrant to consider how essential the wedding is and to work within the level 4 rules.

"It is not the role of the Registrar-General to make decisions about whether or not a ceremony occurs. 'Permission' or 'exemptions' are not something that I have authority to issue and I do not make judgments on what services may or may not be essential.

"My role is to issue licences where the couple meet the requirements, to register celebrants who are expected to abide by the law, and to register relationships that have been legally solemnised," he wrote.

In today's briefing with media, Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said weddings could go ahead as long as they abided by social distancing rules.

Waikanae man Scott Phillips has been a celebrant for eight years and was unimpressed the wedding went ahead.

"I am very concerned about the impact this article is already having.

"I can see that the article was written to be a nice piece to celebrate that this couple managed to get married at a date that they liked, unfortunately I see it as a huge slap in the face to everyone that is actually taking these rules seriously.

"Celebrants suddenly driving all over to marry people everywhere is just a crazy idea. Some celebrants will rightly say no, but others will say yes, suddenly our whole industry is split."

Queenstown celebrant Sarah Noble was not happy the Herald ran the story and said it was socially irresponsible.

She also felt the messaging from Montgomery was "somewhat contradictory" to guidance he had earlier issued - that weddings were banned post alert level 2.

"Now we receive this information [today], saying I've got a legal right to consider licences and to issue them if they meet the criteria.

"A wedding isn't a matter of life or death. And the problem is by people going out ... and breaking a bubble for that, it's not worth putting people's lives at risk when you can get married on another day."

A Hamilton celebrant, who didn't want to be named, dubbed Montgomery's new stance a "cop-out", however, celebrant Rachel Dudfield, of Wellington, said she was supportive of the wedding.

She said it appeared as though it was held on a day that was special to the couple and they adhered to social distancing rules.

As for the celebrant, she hoped that she lived nearby and hadn't travelled across the city to get there.