State leaders deny appeal by Spokane Co. wedding venues for revised regulations

SPOKANE, Wash.– Wedding bells will not be ringing this year for many couples in Washington now that there are new rules in place banning receptions and limiting the number of people at a ceremony.

The mandates went into place Monday, by order of Governor Jay Inslee. State leaders hope the new rules will help stop the spread of COVID-19. But some Spokane County wedding venue owners worry it will do the opposite.

Sandra Shuff has been taking calls every day from the couples who had booked her Deer Park venue, Lavender Manor.

“They’re sad. They’re crying. They’re disappointed. They’re frustrated because the rules change every day,” Shuff said.

For much of the summer, couples were able to hold weddings under the same guidelines that churches and houses of worship follow. That changed with an announcement last month. The governor allowed a grace period into early August for previously scheduled weddings. Everyone else was expected to postpone, cancel, or change their plans to comply with the new rules.

There can no longer be wedding receptions in Washington. Ceremonies are allowed, but each one is limited to 20 percent of the venue occupancy or 30 people, whichever is less. Shuff said that’s leaving brides and grooms with tough decisions.

“You’re breaking down the family. You’re breaking down the culture when you’re dividing which family members can come to a wedding. That is causing lifelong stress that doesn’t need to happen,” Shuff said.

That’s why Shuff and other local venue owners banded together to form a plan that they thought would safely allow more traditional weddings to proceed. Shuff said she’s been hosting large events this summer for couples. Just last weekend, they had 150 guests at Lavender Manor. Each family was spaced out during the reception and wore masks, according to Shuff.

Last Monday, they brought their plans to the governor’s staff and WA State Secretary of Health Dr. John Weisman. Shuff said she was grateful for the audience and thought the conversation went well.

“We had really good dialogue. We really did,” Shuff said.

But it wasn’t enough to convince state leaders. She got a response late last week.

“The answer came back that no, we can’t go past the 30. We can’t expand it to meet the needs of our families because if you’re going to be closing down schools, they didn’t feel that they could open up social activities,” Shuff said.

Shuff shared the news on Facebook with a direct quote from Dr. Weisman’s response. It said, “For now, we believe the best policy position is to allow small weddings, limited to 30 person with no reception. We understand the importance of weddings in terms of foundational life events and that they are often scheduled around other important events such as becoming pregnant, moving in together and so forth. That can still happen under this scenario, albeit differently than many may have planned and dreamed, and I am sorry for that.”

Shuff admitted that she is disappointed in the decision, but she’s also worried about what happens next. She said some couples who have cancelled at her venue are opting to go to Idaho, Las Vegas or a backyard in Washington. She wished that the governor had more faith in letting professionals, like herself, host these events and oversee safety rules on site.

“Well-intentioned mandates, I believe, will actually spread COVID, rather than contain it,” Shuff said.

According to the governor’s office, local law enforcement agencies are tasked with investigating claims that individuals are not following state mandates.

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