As the New York City offices reopen, one department remains stubbornly closed: the Marriage Bureau.
This is because there are a lot of kisses and hugs, and no way to do it in a safe way against Covid.
“We are unique as the only government office in New York where, due to the joy of the occasion, standard procedure for our visitors is to kiss, hug, and snuggle together to photos, “said Michael McSweeney, the city clerk who oversees agency.
Mr McSweeney said they are making a plan to reopen while balancing security concerns with the anticipated increased demand for weddings, but they still don’t know when they will open their doors for in-person ceremonies.
The city’s five marriage bureaus – one in each borough – closed in March 2020 along with the rest of the city to slow the spread of Covid-19. Marriage agencies issue the licenses required by law to get married in New York. They also have officiants who conduct the wedding ceremonies. The Worth Street office in Manhattan is an iconic New York City wedding venue, known for the most part as City Hall, even though it is a few blocks from the current building.
For more than a century, couples seeking marriage could go to any office to obtain their marriage certificates and, later, have a ceremony performed by an officiant. They opened the doors and people came in, McSweeney said.
Without an appointment, the queues are a New York institution, festive and surprising. Some couples dress and others wear casual clothes. In the city’s marriage agencies, florists sell flowers and photographers wait outside to capture the couples.
âIt’s a really popular place; people love to go there. The architecture is beautiful, âsaid Erica Reade, a 38-year-old photographer from Brooklyn who has photographed dozens of weddings at the Manhattan Wedding Bureau.
But it all started last spring. To move to virtual operations, the office launched Project Cupid in spring 2020 with help from the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications, or DoITT. The program allows couples to have a virtual meeting with a clerk to obtain the required marriage license.
An influx of applications initially overwhelmed the system and forced some couples to wait months to get a permit. The city clerk ultimately completed 25,603 dates on the platform in 2020, even as marriages were on the decline overall due to the pandemic. Last year, the bureaus issued 36,142 marriage licenses, compared to 75,370 marriage licenses and 49,538 in-person ceremonies held at their five offices in 2019.
The last project between the city clerk and the DoITT is based on the Cupid project. It is a platform that allows couples to sign their marriage certificate and get married by a clerk, all in a virtual chapel.
Couples who have signed up for a marriage license can participate in a lottery to organize their ceremonies in the virtual app, which gives two hours per couple and allows up to 250 guests from all over the world to connect.
And they can seamlessly sign their marriage licenses in front of their witness with multiple apps integrated into one system.
Jessie Tisch, the DoITT commissioner, said their goal last year was to make sure couples can get marriage licenses, even during a deadly pandemic.
âWithout a marriage license, no one would get married in New York,â she said. Their latest application is something that could be used even after the marriage offices are reopened, to give a virtual option.
âAgainst the backdrop of a lot of things we’ve been working on over the past year, this one is joyous,â Ms. Tisch said.
A spokeswoman for Mayor Bill de Blasio said the new program makes marriage more accessible than ever, especially as venues and couples brace for a summer of postponed weddings.
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âThe summer of love is fast approaching and New York City will be ready for it,â the spokesperson said.
But some couples are disappointed that the city’s wedding offices are still not open, as rising vaccination rates and the easing of Covid-19 restrictions have sparked an altar rush.
Wandi Schell and her fiance, Sean Mulligan, made their first visit to Worth Street earlier this year, when they filed for the domestic partnership. It was a frustrating process, after weeks of trying to get in touch with someone at the clerk’s office, she said. When they arrived, the emptiness of the building was frightening, she said.
âIt almost looked like a bank that is not open,â she said. “It turned the happiest place into a weird ghost town.”
Their plan is to get married in July, but the marriage license application process has also been frustrating.
The couple abandoned New York and traveled to the city of Babylon on Long Island last Friday afternoon. They now have their marriage certificate, she said.
âThey take dates without a problem and puppies are allowed in,â she said.
Ms Reade, the photographer, said her wedding photography has started to pick up again, but she is still anxiously awaiting Worth Street’s reopening.
âIt’s the only government-friendly building you can go to in New York City,â she said. “I miss it.”
Write to Katie Honan at [email protected]
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