Sayaka Fukuda and James Storr Brown had been trying in vain since January to get married after coronavirus disrupted their wedding plans.
So when New York state announced it was legalising video wedding ceremonies last weekend, they immediately decided to get married on Zoom, and were among the first to take advantage of the new law.
Just a few hours later they were saying their vows in the living room of their Manhattan apartment, presided over remotely by their officiant in upstate New York and watched by dozens of friends and family around the world using the video conferencing service.
“We have family in Japan and the UK and of course all of the United States and Italy, so I texted some couples saying: ‘Hey, in two hours I’m going to have the ceremony,’” said the 41-year-old shoe designer and business owner. They ended up with 30-40 guests.
In true Zoom style many of them were dressed up from the waist up with pyjama bottoms out of shot, and friends sent messages of congratulations.
They had a virtual toast, with Fukuda and Storr Brown, 48, who works in finance, on their rooftop. A neighbour, who was also a witness, took photos from a safe distance.
Fukuda said it ended up being a unique and intimate experience that was “way better than going to city hall”.
But, with so many of her friends having lost jobs in the fashion industry as a result of the outbreak, she added: “It’s just a sad and emotional time. To see everybody on the screen, it’s actually very nice and I feel closer to them.”
The couple, who have been together for three and a half years, had planned to have two weddings – one in Tokyo in May and one in upstate New York in June. But following the coronavirus outbreak they, like thousands of others who planned to get married in New York this year, were forced to reassess their plans.
They still plan to do in-person weddings in both cities, but will wait until either later this year or next.
She said living in lockdown is “a great test for marriage”, adding: “If you can go through this, stuck in an apartment all day with your partner, this is an amazing test … We passed it, I hope.”
April and May are usually among the busiest months for weddings in New York. But following the shutdown, marriage bureaus have been closed and marriage licences not issued.
The new executive order allows marriage licences to be issued and ceremonies to be carried out using “audio-video technology” providing that a series of conditions are met, including the couple must provide valid ID during the conference, it must be performed live and the couple must be within the state of New York.
They then have to send the signed document to the town or city clerk, the witnesses and the officiant on the same date it was signed.
As it was announced, New York’s governor, Andrew Cuomo, made reference to the challenge that lockdown presents to some couples, saying: “Marriage rate is going down, divorce rate is going up.”
He joked: “Video marriage ceremonies, there’s now no excuse when the question comes up for marriage. No excuse. You can do it by Zoom. Yes or no?”
Brian Teagle and Jennifer Pettus, both 37, had planned to get married near their home in Westchester, New York, in March but they cancelled their wedding and honeymoon a week beforehand because of coronavirus. They are now considering getting married remotely.
The morning of their cancelled ceremony, Teagle, who works in sales for a not-for-profit, said he and Pettus, a marketing director, had “a tear-filled ceremony between us where we gave each other our rings and said vows to each other, so in our minds we’re already married”.
While they were excited to hear about the new rules and want to get legally married, they are still trying to decide whether it’s right for them. “We’re going back and forth on it,” Teagle said.
Sarah Ritchie, a Manhattan-based officiant for Simply Eloped, has yet to do a legally binding Zoom wedding but has done a symbolic ceremony virtually and found it “much more intimate than I thought it would be”.
She said: “We’re going through a pandemic… there are all sorts of good reasons that people intending to get married should be able to get married now. Whether it’s health decisions, health insurance, it’s a really scary time.”
She added: “Grabbing life and having a moment of hope and good cheer soothes all of us.”
Officiant NYC, a group which performs wedding ceremonies, said that as soon as Cuomo made the announcement they had an influx of inquiries. But they are waiting for clarity from city hall on protocol for signing the document before they go ahead.
They hope to be back to performing in-person weddings again in September. But Lucas Calhoun, an officiant at the company, said he expects it to be different from before the outbreak.
“I just don’t see it being the same when we go back to it. The days of massive gatherings for these weddings where there’s 200 people, we’re a ways off from that. But intimate weddings, five to six people, I see that happening probably around September.”
New York city council said the city clerk’s office is working on launching a system for virtual marriage ceremonies.