As COVID-19 puts Evanston weddings on hold, officiants face uncertainty

Although+legal+marriages+are+not+possible+at+this+time%2C+some+couples+have+opted+for+virtual+religious+wedding+ceremonies+until+the+pandemic+is+over.+The+Cook+County+Clerk%E2%80%99s+Office%2C+which+issues+marriage+licenses%2C+is+currently+closed+due+to+the+pandemic.

Illustration by Catherine Buchaniec

Although legal marriages are not possible at this time, some couples have opted for virtual religious wedding ceremonies until the pandemic is over. The Cook County Clerk’s Office, which issues marriage licenses, is currently closed due to the pandemic.

Mikenzie Roberts, Reporter

Many engaged couples and officiants across Evanston and Chicago are canceling or postponing their weddings as they navigate uncertainty surrounding the length of Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s stay-at-home order.

The Cook County Clerk’s Office, which issues marriage licenses, is currently closed due to the pandemic. While couples can apply for a marriage license online, the policy still states that couples must appear at a Vital Records location in person, meaning Cook County couples cannot obtain marriage licenses until city offices reopen. New York recently moved to allow virtual legal weddings, but whether Illinois will follow is unknown.

Marriage licenses must be used within 60 days, so licenses issued prior to the clerk’s office’s closing will expire before in-person events resume.

Although legal marriages are not possible at this time, some couples have opted for virtual religious wedding ceremonies to tie the knot until the pandemic passes. Northwestern Hillel Rabbi Brandon Bernstein, who was scheduled to officiate a wedding this month, said he’s meeting with the couple virtually to discuss options. A virtual Jewish ceremony following religious tradition might be possible for the couple, but the event would require serious logistical work because Jewish weddings require two witnesses.

“It’s lovely to know that even if we can’t gather with quite as many people as we like, even if we can’t always gather together, people are still finding time again to honor that rare connection between two human beings,” Bernstein said.

Tannenbaum Chabad House Rabbi Dov Klein expressed similar concerns about the technicalities of religious ceremonies. He said he would be willing to perform Jewish weddings ceremonies virtually as long as they adhere to Jewish law.

But Klein said virtual weddings may present some challenges. Couples who are more religious may not currently live with their significant other, he said, which would impact their decision to postpone. He added that he wonders what the new normal will look like when weddings can legally take place, and if large groups of people would even want to be in the same room together by the fall.

Wedding officiants across Cook County are also struggling financially. Bonnie Cortez, a Chicago-based Life-Cycle Celebrant who officiates various ceremonies, said the coronavirus has “pretty much wiped (her business) out” for 2020. She said websites are giving couples false hope of legal online weddings.

While New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order making remote weddings possible, Pritzker has not. However, Cortez said she is still open to speaking with new couples about wedding ceremonies for the future, and that the public can still support the wedding services profession by purchasing gift certificates for themselves or others.

Chicago-based wedding officiant Jill Brown said all those in the wedding profession are on a “pause.” She said many of the weddings she planned to officiate were pushed to the fall, but couples are “hedging their bets” because no future dates are certain.

“I would just say err on the side of caution and have faith that you know it won’t be too long before we can all get together and celebrate again,” Brown said.

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