Perhaps as a side effect of her time as the Ferndale Pride event chair, Julia Music got used to a regular question: "Will you marry us?" Not qualified to do so, she'd politely decline. But over the years, the requests only kept coming.
"So, one night at midnight, I decided I was going to [become a wedding officiant]," she said. "Because why not?"
As if on cue, a friend asked her to do a day-of wedding ceremony soon after, and since getting a license in November 2018, Music has regularly married couples across Michigan. Yet despite falling marriage rates due to COVID-19-related postponements, Music was busier than ever marrying couples in 2020.
"When I got my license I thought, 'Maybe I'll do one or two in my lifetime. I don't think people will be that interested,'" she said. "Now, I'm looking at my seventh [ceremony], and I have two more lined up for later in ."
Due to pandemic-related safety restrictions, the couples that Music has married have all had socially distant ceremonies. And, while Music recovered from an accident that left her temporarily unable to walk, for a time, couples had to have their wedding ceremonies performed on Music's front porch — including her own.
"My wife and I also got married on our porch. [Oakland County] Judge Jake Cunningham actually performed our wedding," she said. "We were planning to get married, we had a date set, COVID struck and we couldn't do our wedding. So, we were like, 'Let's just elope on our front porch.' We've now had at least four weddings on our front porch."
Music believes that despite COVID's challenges, the pandemic helped people to "reprioritize commitments" and relieve the pressures of a large public ceremony.
"I think prior to COVID-19, at least the couples that I worked with, it was about being married and not the wedding," Music said. "In my personal case, I throw a big party every year — I'm good with parties — and I love my wife and partner and I just wanted to be with her. So, it was just about, 'Let's do this ceremony and get this legal document signed so that we're married and we have rights to whatever we need to so that we can be together.'"
For husbands Jason Misleh and Luiz Moreno, that was the aim as well.
"We were just ready and Julia had offered to do it," Misleh said.
Misleh got to know Music after working with her for Ferndale Pride. A porch wedding didn't seem so unconventional to him once he learned of a friend who married his Canadian partner over Zoom because of pandemic border restrictions. Misleh and Moreno tied the knot officially in September 2020.
"But we do plan to have another big pseudo wedding with friends and family, which Julia will perform the same ceremony for I think," he said.
While couples have many reasons to get married, Music thinks that weddings among LGBTQ+ people became more popular in 2020 because of the uncertain political climate. For one, only months ago did the U.S. Supreme Court gain a conservative majority and Justices Clarence M. Thomas and Samuel A. Alito imply that the 2015 nation-wide marriage equality ruling be overturned.
"All the couples that I performed a wedding for were planning to get married, but they were all worried that, because of the political climate, if they didn't do it now, they might lose rights. So, that's kind of why I wanted to offer a free option for people," Music said, who didn't charge couples getting married during COVID-19. "I asked for donations to be sent to The Trans Sistas of Color Project in lieu of payment."
Beyond providing political peace of mind, Music said that these small ceremonies added some scheduling stability for couples in an uncertain time as well.
"With restaurants and wedding halls having all sorts of shut-downs, it's just really hard to try and guess what to try and do," she said. "People are concerned about losing deposits and maybe their [chosen wedding venue] not being a viable business by the time their wedding comes around."
Misleh agreed that for him, a happy ceremony and a bit of certainty in the time of COVID-19 was a huge plus.
"My sister is supposed to be getting married in May and their wedding date has been pushed a million times," he said. "Seeing how she's being upset over and over and over, I almost would say that if you're doing a wedding for your friends and family, wait until it's certain."
But, for those couples looking to get married for themselves, a porch wedding might be just the thing.
"If you're doing it for yourself and your partner, does it really matter when or where it is?"