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Hannah & Danny: Northern Ireland lockdown rules leave couple feeling their wedding is less important

Hannah and Danny were due to get married in May 2020, however Covid had other plans and so they rescheduled their Wedding Day to December this year. Never in their wildest dreams would they have imagined the trials, challenges and heartache placed in front of them with wave after wave of new restrictions, confusing guidelines and a complete lack of clarity. Hannah penned this open letter and has given me permission to share it, hoping that it might provide some reassurance to other couples out there that their feelings are valid and they are not alone.

Hannah: "I muted myself on a work Zoom call when I read the first draft of the ceremony Jean had written for us - it was beautiful, funny and perfectly captured our story - both of our love and relationship, and of the turmoil we’ve faced in planning a wedding this year. This was one of the reasons we chose a Humanist wedding, and therefore one of the reasons we (an English girl and a Scottish boy) chose to get married in a country we love - Northern Ireland. We were delighted they were forward leaning and had decided that Humanist ceremonies would be legal, as they have in Scotland. A Humanist ceremony perfectly captures what marriage is about for us - it embraces the values of compassion, love, inclusivity and honesty between people - and what more could we want to express our love for each other, and for our friends and family who would be joining us.

Following a first planned wedding date in May, we postponed to December 2020 (oh how optimistic we were!). Over the course of lockdown after lockdown, through personal struggles and a scary world, we found a silver lining - not only had it strengthen our love for each other (because if we can love each other after living in each others pockets for 3 months straight, we can get through anything!) but it had confirmed to us what was important about our wedding day. The big party, the band, the drink - while all lovely - were something we could live without. What we wanted from our day was to celebrate Our Story - Our Love, with our closest friends and family.

When the Executive announced a restriction to 25 guests, we were ready for that - it still gave us the day we were dreaming of as our closest family could still be around us.

When the Executive announced no receptions could happen, we were disappointed, but worked with amazing suppliers to come up with creative ways for us to celebrate with family from a distance.

When restaurants closed, it became harder - we wouldn’t be able to raise a glass with our family and friends who would be travelling over - but they would still be able to sit together to share in our story and watch us say our vows to each other.

However, as of last week, the Northern Ireland Executive has decided that any venue that is licensed to serve alcohol, or provide accommodation, must close for two weeks and is not permitted to open for ANYTHING, regardless of the fact it doesn’t involve alcohol or accommodation. This means that effectively all hotels, wedding venues, restaurants are banned from allowing couples to hold wedding ceremonies. What does this leave couples with - churches, or registry offices - neither of which allow for Humanist Weddings.

We have always been supportive of the lockdown measures, and have both not seen our families this year. We completely understand the importance of protecting those around us, the NHS and the country. However, what we don’t understand is why, as members of the Humanist Society, our beliefs and our wedding is considered less critical than that of a religious couple. We have been made to feel that our wedding is less important, our views less valid, and our love, quite honestly, less sincere, than those who are still permitted to celebrate in their way, with a celebrant who shares their beliefs, in a Church.

It's only two weeks, and some people ask us: why don’t you just postpone? It's simply not that easy. My father lives overseas, and so has flown over and isolated in a cottage for the last two weeks in preparation for the one day of being able to walk his daughter down the aisle. How many times can we expect him to do that before we accept that he will not be able to make it to our wedding while the goalposts are ever changing. Our family have flights, accommodation, and cancelled plans to come and see us - how many times can we ask them to move these, and at a high cost. Many of our family have been isolating as they work in high risk, front line jobs - they may not be able to do that again. Our suppliers have been incredible, but if we postpone again - how many of them will still be able to support our next wedding, when they can barely cover their mortgages after a year with no financial support from the government. We love each other and want to be married, start our family and life together. We have been left in limbo - emotionally, financially and practically - and the impact that this constantly changing set of rules has had on our mental wellbeing is one that will take a long time to overcome."

(On going to print Hannah and Danny have made the decision to postpone their wedding this month and reschedule to a later date.)

A Wedding Day is more than a big party, more than a fancy outfit and beautiful flowers (all of which are important in their own way). It is a rite of passage, it's a stepping stone into a couple's future. Weddings and couples deserve be treated with more empathy, compassion and respect.

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