A furore has erupted among the country's wedding celebrants after a North Shore couple were allowed to tie the knot at their home despite the nationwide lockdown.
Jeff Montgomery, the Registrar-General for Births, Deaths and Marriages, is standing by his decision to let the couple go ahead with their special day, sending an email to all celebrants today stating it is up to them and their clients if they decide to get married during the four-week lockdown period.
Ariah and Ben McCarthy originally had their April 11 wedding day postponed. However, after some persistence from Ariah's mother, Montgomery gave them the all-clear to hold the wedding in the front yard of their North Shore home as long as they adhered to 2m distancing rules and had hand sanitiser nearby.
However, he has since issued a statement saying that it was not his role to approve or decline individual ceremonies and that weddings were not an "essential service".
The Herald has today been contacted by many concerned celebrants saying they had cancelled their weddings much to the upset of many people but wanted to stick to the lockdown rules.
Wellington celebrant Miranda Zander didn't believe a wedding was essential.
She felt sorry for all the people who have not only had to cancel their special day but more so, she felt for people affected in other ways, especially those who can't attend a funeral or tangi.
"I don't think it should be allowed and I don't know where that falls or whether that falls with the celebrant or the issuing of the licence but you're effectively breaching two bubbles by doing it. The bubble with the couple and the bubble with the celebrant and maybe the photographer or who else was there. It just doesn't look good.
Zander runs a private Facebook page for about 600 of the country's celebrants to network.
She had been inundated with feedback this morning.
"I'm getting a lot of messages from celebrants and people in the industry being outraged and there's people telling me that they're getting rung by clients who are angry that they had been turned down.
"I don't think weddings are essential or an essential service so the flipside is, yes I feel really sad for people who want to get married and my heart goes out to them but I'm fortunate that all of my couples who were getting married are all reasonable and don't want to do it at this time.
"We can't have funerals at the moment and that is heartbreaking, we can't have people at people's births in hospitals and if you put it in perspective a wedding should be a day of celebration."
She said a lot of people were running scared because two of the clusters were the result of weddings.
Montgomery said it was up to each couple and their celebrant to use their judgement as to whether a marriage was essential and should proceed.
He said in an email to some celebrants that weddings have occurred recently, for example when one of the couple is about to pass away, or because of religious requirements.
But in his statement issued at 6.24pm on Easter Sunday, he said celebrants "cannot justify their travel with the need to perform a marriage, even if it's for someone who may not have long to live".
"The Registrar-General does not encourage nor condone marriage ceremonies taking place during the lockdown. He acknowledges that cancelling and postponing wedding ceremonies is deeply disappointing for many couples and their families," he said.
"If a couple believes, for whatever reason, that their marriage will go ahead, the Registrar-General advises that they only use a celebrant in their bubble or who lives very close by (for example, across the street), and follow every aspect of the Ministry of Health distancing and sanitising guidelines. There are more than 10,000 celebrants in New Zealand so a local celebrant should be possible.
"In such cases, it must only be attended by the couple, their two witnesses and the celebrant. Physical distancing, protective equipment and COVID-19 hygiene requirements should be used."
"Celebrants need to be aware that this is not an essential service. They cannot justify their travel with the need to perform a marriage, even if it's for someone who may not have long to live," he said.
The celebrant who conducted the McCarthys' wedding, Ruth Montgomerie, declined to say how far she travelled to conduct the ceremony.
"I'm really close by," she said. "It was across Auckland."
She said she initially told the couple that the wedding could not go ahead, but later agreed to proceed after the couple provided an email from Jeff Montgomery saying it was "my choice".
She said the bride's mother also contacted her local MP, Louisa Wall, who was copied into the email received from Jeff Montgomery.
"I made sure that I had all the documentation from Jeff Montgomery and from the MP who was involved," Ruth Montgomerie said.
Wall confirmed that she contacted Jeff Montgomery on behalf of the bride's mother, who lives in Perth and was unable to attend the wedding because of the lockdown.
"Jeff was incredibly helpful and noted that there were no specific restrictions to getting married other than those that apply generally under level 4," she said.
"Jeff highlighted the need to find a celebrant willing to conduct the marriage within their local area to avoid travelling distances, and to conduct a brief ceremony while maintaining the required social distancing."
In today's briefing with media, Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said weddings could go ahead as long as they abided by social distancing rules.
Waikanae man Scott Phillips has been a celebrant for eight years and was unimpressed the wedding went ahead.
"I am very concerned about the impact this article is already having.
"I can see that the article was written to be a nice piece to celebrate that this couple managed to get married at a date that they liked, unfortunately I see it as a huge slap in the face to everyone that is actually taking these rules seriously.
"Celebrants suddenly driving all over to marry people everywhere is just a crazy idea. Some celebrants will rightly say no, but others will say yes, suddenly our whole industry is split."
Queenstown celebrant Sarah Noble was not happy the Herald ran the story and said it was socially irresponsible.
She also felt the messaging from Montgomery was "somewhat contradictory" to guidance he had earlier issued - that weddings were banned post alert level 2.
"Now we receive this information [today], saying I've got a legal right to consider licences and to issue them if they meet the criteria.
"A wedding isn't a matter of life or death. And the problem is by people going out ... and breaking a bubble for that, it's not worth putting people's lives at risk when you can get married on another day."
A Hamilton celebrant, who didn't want to be named, dubbed Montgomery's new stance a "cop-out", however, celebrant Rachel Dudfield, of Wellington, said she was supportive of the wedding.
She said it appeared as though it was held on a day that was special to the couple and they adhered to social distancing rules.
As for the celebrant, she hoped that she lived nearby and hadn't travelled across the city to get there.
Celebrant Yvette Reid of Auckland said news of the wedding only bought more disappointment to couples who had to postpone their weddings due to the lockdown.
"Some of them will feel 'hard done by' that their celebrant was not more willing to bend or break rules for them, some of them will be super angry that another couple broke the clear rules and still gets a legal wedding, the rest will be wondering if they can potentially find a way to also bend the rules to do the same."
The Celebrants Association of NZ has been approached for comment.