The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

When anti-vaxxers want to come to your wedding

(Ana Jarén for The Washington Post)

Their “Love in the Time of Covid” cards in each save-the-date envelope spelled it out clearly: This October wedding would be a vaccinated-only event. After all, the groom’s father, who is vaccinated against covid-19 but immunocompromised, needed to be sure he could safely attend.

Still, Michelle and her fiance knew what would probably happen once invitees began tearing open their mail. Some, like their bridesmaids and groomsmen — all 22 of whom got vaccinated against covid-19 as early as they possibly could — would RSVP without a second thought. Others, though, “were not going to get the vaccine, were going to be mad at us for requiring that and would make sure that we knew they were upset and then angrily not come,” says Michelle, a 34-year-old in Phoenix.

The couple didn’t expect a third scenario — like, say, someone who hadn’t been vaccinated showing up anyway. But then a family member disclosed some shocking intel: Michelle’s father and stepmom were planning to lie about having gotten the vaccine.

“That obviously threw everything completely for a loop,” she says. Not only are Michelle and her father very close, but he’s also helping pay for the event. She couldn’t imagine her father simply not coming at all.

Still, she has no plans to relax the rules on his behalf — especially when his presence would pose a risk to the groom’s family. "My future mother-in-law saw the covid inserts and texted me to thank me,” she says. She’s still trying to figure out the best way forward. (Michelle and others in this story spoke on the condition that The Washington Post use their first names only, to avoid bringing their guests unwanted publicity.)

If planning a wedding in a normal year is stressful, planning a wedding in 2021 is especially so. Refrigerator magnets are struggling against the weight of two years’ worth of save-the-dates, change-the-dates and invitations. Couples are competing for not just guests but for reception halls and oversize photo-booth mustaches. And those with safety on their minds are encountering an even bigger problem: the heartache and awkward negotiations that ensue when guests refuse a coronavirus vaccine and still want to attend.

Elayna, a bride in Minnesota who’s planning her wedding for this fall, has known for a long time that a close college-aged relative of hers wasn’t planning to get a vaccine. She assumed the relative would come around in time, but “now it’s getting closer and neither one of us are backing down,” Elayna says.

Like Michelle, Elayna feels an obligation to prioritize the safety of guests who are immunocompromised or whose doctors have advised them not to get the shot because they are allergic to its ingredients. “It would break my heart,” Elayna says, for her relative to not attend. “But I’m just realizing, like, no, if I believe this strongly that I need this requirement at my wedding, then that means there’s going to be really tough repercussions.”

Some couples have opted for pleading one-on-one. Macy Steadman, 28, is getting married in October in Canmore, Alberta, near her hometown of Calgary. (Yes, it happens to be all brides in this story — they’re still often the ones doing the wedding planning.) Some of her family will have to cross the border from the United States to attend — which may act as a convenient filter. Canada is expected to start allowing visitors from the States again shortly, but could still require the unvaccinated ones to quarantine for two weeks. In that case, Steadman says, many of her relatives likely wouldn’t come, “and I won’t have to be the bad guy.”

Steadman was briefly worried, however, that her sister, her maid of honor, wasn’t planning to get the vaccine. But when Steadman emphasized that the wedding would require vaccination, her sister pledged to make an appointment soon. Steadman’s brother is next on her list.

Other couples are softening their policies. Jessica, a bride in California (“Devin Nunes’s district”), initially wanted everyone coming to celebrate after her July courthouse wedding to be vaccinated. But after her parents informed her that they would not be getting vaccinated but would be attending, she felt powerless to stop them. Especially since only a handful of other guests are invited.

“I’m still not sure exactly how that’s going to look. I know that they’re really going to want, like, maybe a bunch of pictures or hugs,” Jessica says. “I’m just not sure how I feel about that.”

Do I have to travel to every wedding this year?

Sonja Urmston, 31, would have liked to require guests to be vaccinated for her September wedding in New Jersey — but in March, it was clear that a portion of her husband-to-be’s family was declining the shot. So the pair compromised: Those who weren’t vaccinated would need to bring a negative coronavirus test from within 72 hours before the wedding.

“This is the happy medium that I think would be fair,” she says. She does anticipate some pushback, but guests who won’t comply with the test requirement “have bigger problems,” she says.

“I’m not being a bridezilla,” she says. “It’s a safety risk.”

Elisabeth Kramer is a wedding planner in Portland, Ore., who writes a newsletter about weddings. Her post about communicating vaccine requirements to guests and vendors has been attracting heavy late-night readership lately, she says, likely from the frantic Google searches of stressed-out couples. “I hear from people who are dealing with this in so many different ways.”

Kramer’s advice for such couples is to ask themselves two questions: Do anti-vaccine guests need to be in person at our wedding for it to feel like our wedding? And who is at risk if they attend? Sometimes, the risks to an immunocompromised family member, or a vendor — or a guest under 12, who can’t yet be vaccinated — are just too great. But if the vulnerable aren’t coming, some couples might relent.

Michelle, in Arizona, is optimistic that her dad will receive a vaccine before her wedding this fall. She’s even volunteered to help him find an appointment — although she may try to witness his vaccination with her own two eyes. “I could imagine maybe trying to orchestrate a situation that’s like, ‘Let’s go out to lunch. Oh, hey, while we’re out …’” she says with a laugh. “ ‘I’m driving and we’re going.’ ”

Michelle hopes her other relatives will feel the pressure of potential exclusion and get their vaccinations, too. But she’s already thinking ahead to the bright side, just in case they don’t. “We have a food and beverage minimum to meet,” Michelle says. “Those of us that are there and vaccinated will just have a lot fancier drinks.”

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