Coronavirus Wedding Diaries: We Got Married With an Emergency Self-Uniting License

The bride has asthma and works at CHOP as a phlebotomy coordinator.

Emergency marriage license

April Coward and Fred Ferguson obtained an emergency self-uniting marriage license through the Philadelphia Register of Wills during the coronavirus pandemic. Photo courtesy the couple

Since April 6th, the Philadelphia Register of Wills has only issued virtual marriage licenses for self-uniting ceremonies in emergency situations. In that time, the ROW has received 1,600 applications or inquiries and provided 382 licenses to couples facing extreme challenges during the pandemic, such as life-threatening health issues or working on the front line. Among those who successfully moved forward with their request were Philly residents April Coward and Fred Ferguson. She is a phlebotomy coordinator at CHOP who also lives with asthma, making her an at-risk essential worker. (He is a facilities supervisor at Drexel University.) The couple got engaged in 2019, set a date of April 4th, 2020 and planned accordingly — that is, until the pandemic changed their plans. Here, April shares their story.

This story is part of Philadelphia Wedding’s on-going Real Talk series, where real Philly couples share their unique approaches to wedding planning and marriage. If you have a unique story or experience worth sharing, we’d love to hear about it.

We initially planned to go to City Hall and apply for our marriage license Wednesday, March 18th, two weeks before our wedding date. But the city was put on quarantine, and all nonessential businesses were closed for 14 days (at least we thought). Our hopes of the quarantine being lifted on Monday, March 30th, were not fulfilled, and the city was now shut down until further notice.

We still said our vows to one another on April 4th, as originally planned. We always said from the day we got engaged that if it had to be just the two of us and God, we would still get married. It’s all about the marriage and not about the wedding we were planning.

Meanwhile, we called City Hall every day hoping someone would answer the phone and say “Yes, we’re open” and could process our license. We checked the Register of Wills website daily. On April 6th, I saw a new notice regarding a virtual emergency marriage license. I immediately called my fiancé and told him I was going to look further into it when I got home from work.

We qualified for the emergency license because I am an essential worker and have asthma. I now wear a face shield as an extra precaution. I also always wear a mask, protective eyewear and sometimes a gown when drawing blood and/or interacting with patients and families. 

The marriage license process took a little over a week. We were approved for an application by Caren Berger; we filled it out and emailed it back; and then set up a Zoom meeting with Lindsey Keenan to sign the documents. When that was completed, we mailed the documents overnight via USPS to ROW. 

RELATED: A Guide to Philadelphia Weddings During the Coronavirus Outbreak

We received the license in the mail April 16th. After waiting the required three days, we got married on the 19th. Our ceremony was held at my parents’ home with our children, my niece and siblings in attendance. Everyone kept their distance; as a precaution we wore masks and definitely cleaned our hands often. We still dressed formally because this was still a very special day, even with the pandemic.

And my mother married us. It was always part of the plan for one of my parents (who are both ministers) to marry us. Saying our vows to one another was one poignant moment during the ceremony because they have so much meaning and are more than just words to the both of us. We were making a physical, spiritual, emotional union and solemn covenant together in the presence of God. That was a very special moment.

We’ve received our certified copy of our license in the mail, and have been married for about a month now. I am feeling great, with a deeper connection to my husband. We are very glad we still decided to get married even through this pandemic. We’re looking forward to a lifetime together. We’ll celebrate even more when this pandemic is over. We are Mr. and Mrs. Ferguson. #ForeverFerguson 

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.


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