Social affairs Who wants a socially-distanced wedding anyway?

Who wants a socially-distanced wedding anyway?
Surrounded by standing wreathes that were sent by dozens of frustrated couples across the nation, a couple holds a sign demanding the easing of government social distancing restrictions on weddings at a protest sponsored by the Federation of Korean Newlyweds on Thursday morning. [NEWS1]
Surrounded by standing wreathes that were sent by dozens of frustrated couples across the nation, a couple holds a sign demanding the easing of government social distancing restrictions on weddings at a protest sponsored by the Federation of Korean Newlyweds on Thursday morning. [NEWS1]
 
Planning a wedding in normal times is a herculean task. Add to that a pandemic and the chaos of continuously changing social distancing guidelines, and you have more stress than most betrothed couples can bear.
 
“Please, let us marry!” reads the banner on a wreath, one of dozens outside the government complex in Jongno, central Seoul, at 8 a.m. on Thursday. “A marriage full of debt” reads another.
 
Marching along the row of wreaths were well-dressed young men and women with expressions that were anything but dewey-eyed. They had all taken half-day leaves from work to picket the government and fulminate about its ever-changing social distancing guidelines for weddings. 
 
“The government is implementing these policies without any sense of reality,” said a member of the Federation of Korean Newlyweds, a group that represents about 6,000 people who are either engaged or recently married. 
 
“We [the newlyweds] are faced with financial losses from the constantly changing social distancing rules while the government turns a blind eye.”  
 
Since the pandemic began, the number of guests allowed at weddings has yo-yoed. At one point, only 49 people were allowed to see couples off into futures of connubial bliss. And yet, with the government setting ceilings, wedding venues maintained floors, or venue minimums -- a minimum number of invited guests. 
 
A typical wedding hall has a venue minimum of around 200. 
 
Last week, the government announced its latest change to social distancing guidelines, which allowed up to 99 guests to attend a wedding -- half the normal venue minimum.
 
And even with that loosening, there was a caveat -- none of the guests could dine.
 
Wedding halls have been forcing couples to pay for more guests than will actually attend.  

 
“We have 99 guests attending our wedding but the wedding hall said that we have to pay for 200 including wedding favors because that is its venue minimum,” said Mr. Lee, a 28-year-old October’s groom-to-be. “It looks like we will be left with over 100 wine bottles to spare.”  
 
Engaged couples say that the government’s social distancing guidelines for weddings are stricter than for restaurants or bars.
 
“I see tens of people on a single floor of a shopping mall eating with masks off, but they don't let 50 people eat at a wedding,” said Mr. Choi, another groom-to-be. “I don’t see how this is fair.”
 
Even with the regulatory chaos and venue venality, most couples cannot wait forever to tie the knot, and the pandemic shows no sign of ending.
 
Trusting the government’s vow that Korea would have herd immunity by September, a couple in their 30s delayed their marriage to this fall, only to be met with the fourth wave of the pandemic.
 
The protest by the Federation of Korean Newlyweds demanded that the government either step up to deal with the wedding venue’s gapjil (a Korean term for abuse of power), or ease the social distancing rule on weddings.  
 
“The government needs to implement more reasonable and realistic policies such as vaccine incentives and flexibility in the number of guests depending on the size of wedding halls.” said a member of the newlywed federation.
 

BY KWON HYE-RIM, LEE JIAN [lee.jian@joongang.co.kr]
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