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‘Are we ready for a wedding?’ Couples wrangle with nuptials amid coronavirus

A deliveryman walked into a wedding performed by justice of the peace Barbara Kahn in the lobby of a Malden apartment building. The wedding of Kurt and Lauren Fabian marked the sixth ceremony Kahn has performed in the lobby since the start of the pandemic.Erin Clark/Globe Staff

MALDEN — By any standard, this does not look like a traditional wedding venue.

A large, L-shaped couch dominates the space. An elaborate lighting fixture hangs down from the ceiling. The floor tiles are a utilitarian gray. And upon them are stacks of brown Amazon packages awaiting pickup.

But in the age of COVID-19, the lobby of a modern apartment building is the new hotel ballroom.

Many couples have scrambled to postpone their big day until everyone can gather again. But others are moving forward in the midst of the pandemic, albeit with drastically different ceremonies.

That means this lobby had hosted five marriages since the start of the pandemic thanks to Barbara M. Kahn, a justice of the peace who lives at the residential complex.

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On Friday, Kahn awaited a couple for her sixth coronavirus wedding. She wore a black robe with a mask covering the lower part of her face and gloves on her hands. Pandemic or not, she said she performs a service that couples view as essential. People have their reasons for wanting to get married now rather than wait.

But is Kahn, an 82-year-old who has performed more than 2,200 weddings, concerned about officiating marriages given the dangers posed by coronavirus?

“We’re very careful,” she said.

The couple arrives: the soon-to-be Kurt and Lauren Fabian. They live in Boston’s financial district, and were supposed to be married in early May in Pennsylvania, where some of the groom’s relatives live. They were expecting about 50 guests, some of whom were flying in from abroad. However, coronavirus prompted the Fabians to cancel the event. Lauren’s wedding dress is still in the store.

But the couple pressed on, thinking “Let’s just do this.” They wanted to be married before starting a family, said Lauren, and there were questions about when they would be able to have a larger celebration, given the ongoing public health emergency. So they went to Boston City Hall to fill out the necessary paperwork to move forward.

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While the number of marriage license applications in Boston has dipped during the pandemic, 250 couples still applied between mid-March and mid-April, according to Patricia A. McMahon, the city’s registrar. During the same four-week period last year, 320 couples applied, she said.

McMahon said that after “most of the other towns” ceased issuing marriage licenses in mid-March, her office had one day where 60 couples came in to apply. Couples typically can seek licenses at any town or city hall that is open in the state; a license from any municipality is valid throughout Massachusetts.

The rush prompted the office to require people to schedule an appointment, since couples have to file in-person and together. Appointments are full until the end of May, and the city is hoping to offer more dates for June, McMahon said in a recent email.

Boston is among the few Massachusetts communities that is currently accepting and processing marriage license applications, said Loretta Jay, managing member of the Justice of the Peace Association. The lack of such services at the municipal level in the state is a problem, she said.

“There are such things as essential marriages,” she said.

Driving factors for such unions can include military deployment and immigration issues, said Jay. The legal act of marrying also can have significant ramifications for health care benefits. It can provide the next-of-kin-rights when someone is hospitalized or in the event of a death. There is comfort in knowing “that no one is going to challenge their connection when someone becomes ill,” said Jay.

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“In times of COVID, the legality of marriage becomes prevalent,” she said.

Some couples, of course, have chosen to push back their wedding date.

Newton residents Patricia Tyler and Donald Yurt postponed their wedding from early June to October. Tyler and Yurt, who met at a wedding 16 years ago and are both in their early 60s and work in higher education, didn’t want to jeopardize anyone’s health or have any guests feel uncomfortable at the ceremony, she said. There also were questions about whether the relevant businesses would be back open or if the state ban on gatherings would be lifted in June.

Moving the date brought with it frustrations. They had to re-book vendors for the rescheduled date and re-sign contracts. Some parts of the planning, like selecting Yurt’s suit for the occasion and checking out restaurants for the rehearsal dinner — and yes, getting the actual marriage license — have been put on hold.

“Everything is closed!” wrote Tyler in an email.

Other couples have gone forward but overhauled their ceremonies. Cambridge residents Nick Sama and Kate Keough were engaged last October and had planned to get married in August. Then the pandemic hit, and Keough was laid off from her job at a startup.

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“That kind of really changed how we prioritized things in our lives,” Sama said.

They nixed the August plans and significantly reduced the guest list. Nine people were at their April 18 wedding in Sudbury, far fewer than the 100 they had originally planned. Strangers in five or six cars stopped to watch the outdoor ceremony from a nearby parking lot, and honked at the end of the ceremony.

On the plus side, there was no need to worry about table settings, said Keough, 38, days later.

"There's so much materialism that can be brought into a wedding that we couldn't consider and it allowed us to be there in a way that I'm incredibly grateful for," she said.

They had their first dance in a Weston parking lot, which allowed for their closest friends and relatives to be there while maintaining a social distance. Later, there was a virtual cake cutting, beamed out to loved ones from their home.

“It’s obviously not what we had expected, not what we had planned,” said Sama, 40, who runs a summer camp in Brookline. “But it was like the perfect wedding, honestly.”

Back in Malden, Kurt Fabian set up a camera on a tripod in the lobby of the apartment building on Overlook Ridge Drive. He wanted to record the event for his family. Kahn, the justice of the peace, asked “Are we ready for a wedding?” The couple, Kahn’s husband, and two journalists — the full wedding coterie — were indeed.

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The Fabians met online, more than a year ago. They were brought up a world away from one another. Lauren is a 38-year-old housing attorney from Long Island; Kurt is a 43-year-old therapist who grew up in Papua New Guinea. They are both twins and both said they felt a connection right away, on their first date at a Newton hotel bar.

Now, they are exchanging vows. Both the bride and groom get emotional. The ceremony takes less than 10 minutes. At one point, a woman in a medical mask walking a French bulldog starts to open a door to the lobby, but after taking in the scene, thinks better of it and wheels around. A short time later, a masked and gloved deliveryman walks in, package in hand. And yet, it is a joyous occasion.

Afterward, the Fabians say they plan to get takeout from Boston’s North End.

“I do want a slice of cake,” said Lauren Fabian. “Like wedding cake. We got to get a slice of cake.”



Danny McDonald can be reached at daniel.mcdonald@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @Danny__McDonald.