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Ferndale wedding officiant helps couples tie the knot during the pandemic with porch ceremonies

Julia Music and her partner at their wedding officiated by Judge J. Cunningham.
Posted at 8:53 PM, Apr 07, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-07 22:20:06-04

FERNDALE (WXYZ) — Couples eagerly waiting to tie the knot in 2020 were set back by the pandemic. By the 2020 wedding season, COVID had forced venues, churches and banquet halls to close as the state tried desperately to manage a new global health crisis.

And although Michigan is now slowly reopening, and vaccines are becoming more accessible, COVID numbers continue to rise, putting into question how many will celebrate their nuptials in the safest way possible going forward – whether the more traditional route or by downsizing their big day.

RELATED: Couples left questioning when indoor weddings can happen under loosened restrictions

"I think it's really important to remember that a wedding, for a lot of people, is about the party. But really, the party goes away and you are left with the two people, and that is really truly what it's all about," said Julia Music who has officiated half a dozen weddings on her front porch in Ferndale, and counting. "So if people are overwhelmed by the party, or overwhelmed by having everyone's eyes on them, there are other ways to have a really meaningful day."

Music is the founder and executive director of Ferndale Pride. She and her partner's meaningful day also happened during the pandemic, as she married her wife at their home in a small ceremony on their front porch.

It wasn't the original plan, Music said. But after the venue the couple booked stopped contacting them, even though a deposit was already submitted, the two opted to take another route. So on Sept. 13, 2020, Music and her partner were married on their front porch. The ceremony was officiated by Oakland County Judge J. Cunningham.

Even before Music and her wife said "I do," Music had already officiated some intimate wedding ceremonies on her front porch, with the first being close family friends back in 2019 shortly after receiving her license.

Once the pandemic hit, Music saw an influx in couples wanting to tie the knot, even with so much uncertainty surrounding them. Like Jason Misleh and his husband Luiz Moreno, who were married by Music on Sept. 2, 2020.

"I know everyone wants to have the fairy tale wedding, but to us, our wedding was for us and not for everyone else," Misleh said.

Jason Misleh and husband Luiz Moreno married by Julia Music on Sept. 2, 2020.
Jason Misleh and Luiz Moreno

Music officiated Misleha and Moreno's wedding, as well as others at the start of the pandemic, for free. However, the couples were given the option to donate to Trans Sistas of Color Project for the service.

"I was seeing a lot of people posting different fears they had about the LGBT community not being able to get married. And with the pandemic... I didn't want to gather a group of people," Music said. "Because of some fears with our last administration that LGBT people might lose rights to get married, there were a lot of people kind of in that boat of, 'I don't want to lose this right to somebody I know I'm going to marry.' And, so, I offered free weddings through the election."

The porch weddings were limited to two witnesses, Music as the officiant, the couple, of course, and a photographer who could shoot photos from the yard.

Misleh and Moreno said the most difficult part of the setup was not having family there to celebrate with them.

Moreno, who is from Miami, Florida, was unable to have his family at the ceremony due to travel restrictions amid the pandemic, but the couple hopes to celebrate their union with family at a later date.

"Our porch has become quite a little wedding venue," Music said. "It's very much nothing fancy but it is an official wedding venue around here."

Music has already scheduled her seventh and eighth weddings for later in the year. These weddings will be at outdoor venues with safety precautions still in place, she said. But she hasn't abandoned her porch weddings.

"It's something people need, it's something people want and it's also, sometimes in our community, something that's cost-prohibitive for a lot of people," Music said. "So being able to provide a service that matched all different types of clients with something I could do, that was one of those little things I could share with the world and has just made me a happy person for doing so."

Emma Velasquez and Tess Kolp were married by Music on Oct. 27, 2020, which was on the second anniversary of their first date. They say their reason for marrying during the pandemic, in part, reflected concerns many in the LGBTQ community had under the former administration.

Emma Velasquez and Tess Kolp married by Julia Music on Oct. 27, 2020.

"At the time, it was completely rational to be pretty anxious about what was going to happen," Velasquez said. "So we had made the decision to get married a while back, and I don't think it would have been as early if we didn't have all those push factors, but we made the decision to get married and we would have our celebration with our families and friends at a later time."

But deciding on a date for a future celebration is still a concern, Kolp and Velasquez said, because safety is a top priority in planning a reception with family and friends. COVID cases continue to rise and there's uncertainty surrounding when it'll be safe to freely commune again with loved ones. That same uncertainty is what led Velasquez and Kolp to have a porch wedding.

RELATED: Interactive map: Track Michigan's COVID-19 cases & vaccinations

"It's a double-edged sword that marriage and weddings are such big events, and as Tess just said, it means so much to us. The other part is our family involvement," Velasquez said. "And something we didn't want on our conscious was people inadvertently getting sick, losing their life, spreading it to others and having it on their conscious."

Kolp added, "I think for both of us... just being married was just... so important to us. It didn't really matter how. But the actual act of, like, saying the vows, signing the papers, all that stuff, is super important to us. And, you know, we'll still be married when we have our celebration."

Velasquez recalled something her aunt said that eased frustrations surrounding getting married in such an unconventional way. She said her aunt, who is more like a second mother, told her that the important part is that she found her person, now everything else is easy.