More than 50 guests can attend New York weddings amid COVID-19 pandemic, federal judge rules
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Weddings in New York may have more than 50 guests, despite the state’s limit on all gatherings during the COVID-19 pandemic, a federal judge said Friday.
In his decision, Judge Glenn Suddaby of the Northern District of New York said wedding venues could operate at the same level of service as the state’s restaurants, which can now serve indoor diners at 50% capacity.
He ruled in favor of two couples who planned to get married at the Arrowhead Golf Club in Akron, New York, saying there was no difference in the use of the venue for ordinary dining and the use of the venue for a wedding, particularly if diners and wedding guests were required to follow the same safety rules.
“Simply put, if these limitations are sufficient to protect the state’s interest in preventing the spread of COVID-19 when implemented in restaurants at 50-percent capacity, there is no rational reason why they are not also sufficient to protect that interest in a wedding at 50-percent capacity,” the judge wrote.
In July, two couples sued Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Attorney General Letitia James, Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz, the Erie County Department of Health and the Empire State Development Corp., claiming that the state’s 50-person gathering restriction put in place during the pandemic violated their First Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment rights.
The restriction would “deprive Plaintiffs of an ‘irreplaceable life event’ (i.e., their ability to have a wedding that allows their friends and family to participate to the full extent contemplated by their Christian faith),” they argued. They also said that the defendants’ interest in preventing the spread of COVID-19 was undermined by “the fact that a wedding venue, when operating as a restaurant under defendants’ 50-percent capacity restriction, is permitted to hold more than 50 people at a time (and thus failing to allow more than 50 people when the same venue is used for a wedding is arbitrary).”
The couples added that the state allows “similar or more dangerous activities involving more people,” including protests and outdoor graduation ceremonies.
Among their arguments, the governor’s lawyers said the 50-person gathering restriction is “a valid expression of the state’s emergency police power over matters of health and safety” and the “court should not second-guess the state’s response to a health crisis.”
Caitlin Girouard, Cuomo’s press secretary, told Syracuse.com after the ruling Friday that the “decision is irresponsible at best, as it would allow for large, nonessential gatherings that endanger public health.”
“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,” she said.