June 5, 2023


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Wedding receptions in NY may have more than 50 guests, court rules; happy couple’s last-minute victory

A federal judge has rejected New York’s limit of 50 people at wedding receptions in restaurants during the coronavirus shutdown.

Judge Glenn Suddaby, in the Northern District, ruled Friday in favor of two couples who had booked weddings at Arrowhead Golf Club, in Akron. The lawsuit was initiated by Lucas James, co-owner of the golf course.

The ruling allows wedding venues to operate under the same rules as restaurants. The current state guidelines allow restaurants to serve dinner indoors at 50{a38ddb2ded6b05e28c8ae73a8db0e271c21f7193684bd9e4e28acae292f81d99} capacity.

The couples argued that Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s limit of 50 people at gatherings, including weddings, violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments by “forbidding them to preside or participate in religious weddings according to the dictates of their conscious and religious beliefs,” the lawsuit said.

The owners of wedding venues across New York have said they are turning couples away because of unclear rules.

“The wedding venue industry has been decimated by Cuomo’s policies on this and it’s very damaging to local businesses,” James said. “Hundreds of employees at these venues have been laid off and their families are struggling. It’s been a disaster.”

James also said couples have been devastated by the inability to get married with all of their friends and family as witnesses.

The ruling came Friday, just minutes before Jenna DiMartile walked down the aisle at The Sterling at Arrowhead Golf Club. She and fiance Justin Crawford had already worked out a plan to have about 115 people in attendance.

“I think it’s something worth fighting for, if we really do believe in the meaning of marriage for people to be witnesses of our covenant before God,” DiMartile said. “We respect our venue for believing in that fight as well.”

The governor’s office has not released guidance specific to weddings, but has said they are subject to the state’s limit of 50 people at all gatherings.

“The judge’s decision is irresponsible at best, as it would allow for large, non-essential gatherings that endanger public health,” said Caitlin Girouard, Cuomo’s press secretary. “We will pursue all available legal remedies immediately and continue defending the policies that have led New York to having – and maintaining – one of the lowest infection rates in the country, while cases continue to rise in dozens of other states.”

Cuomo’s lawyers argued that the ban on gatherings over 50 people, an executive order, is a valid expression of the state’s emergency police power over matters of health and safety.

“There is a real and substantial relation between the COVID-19 pandemic and the gathering restriction, and the Court should not second-guess the State’s response to a health crisis,” the state argued in court documents.

The couples argued that religious ceremonies should not be treated differently than gatherings for demonstrations, graduation ceremonies and restaurants.

James said the restaurant has capacity to seat 438 people.

“So we would legally have over 200 people eating dinner one night and the following night, if we had a wedding and we called it a wedding, we would have been able to only have 50 people there and that’s not right,” he said.

Churches are already allowed to host religious services at 50{a38ddb2ded6b05e28c8ae73a8db0e271c21f7193684bd9e4e28acae292f81d99} capacity. That was also the result of a court challenge.


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Contact Michelle Breidenbach | [email protected] | 315-470-3186.