Have trouble remembering an anniversary? Try getting married on Valentine’s Day, a traditionally popular time to get hitched. But in the time of Covid, when restrictions threaten to put a damper on ‘the big day’, is anyone rushing to tie-the knot?
It looks like love, at least in the Town of Southampton, is winning.
“The pandemic created an urgency for couples, who were suddenly faced with serious concerns about how to protect their loved ones and their assets if someone got sick,” says Southampton Town Clerk Sundy Schermeyer, who has officiated more than 1,400 marriages, and approximately 100 marriages a year in Southampton town.
Though the number of couples coming to Southampton Town Hall for a marriage license in January and February of this year may be down slightly, “people of all ages are still in love, and still getting married,” said Schermeyer, adding “in a socially distant way of course.”
For Jessica and Matthew Feldman (who had been dating for 10 years before saying ‘I do’), making it legal—even if in the thick of Covid—was important to them. “We wanted to start a family and we didn’t want to put our life on hold,” says Jessica, who grew up in Southampton and works in the town trustee’s office. “Matthew had bought the ring in January of 2020, but then Covid hit.” The couple persisted.
“Covid made me so nervous,” said Matthew. “I’m not one who rushes into things, but I couldn’t stand it if something were to happen to one of us. I am absolutely in love with Jessica—I adore her. We felt the only important thing was to be married.”
In July, Matthew proposed, but once engaged, the couple felt pandemic pressure—from the ever-lurking virus, from loved ones eager to book a flight to celebrate, and from the uncertainty of how to plan a wedding (or anything) during a pandemic.
“We heard intense stories about people not getting their refunds back from the venue,” said Jessica, a common concern after New York State banned large weddings last summer [a restriction to be lifted on March 15 for weddings approved by local health departments with up to 150 attendees—all who must get a Covid test].
The pressure to make a decision escalated with Jessica’s father’s declining health.
“My Dad was sick with Alzheimer’s and was going into assisted living—I wanted him at my wedding,” she said.
The couple decided to move ahead with their plans. Jessica rush-ordered her dress, called friends and relatives, and on Nov. 7, 2020 she and Matthew got married on Cryder Beach in the Village of Southampton in front of her father, and 30 socially distanced relatives and friends.
“It was unbelievable,” recalled Matthew. “I’m not religious, but it felt heavenly, the ocean was so special and the weather was unbelievable, in the ’70s… in November! It seemed like everything came together for us.”
About 15 of the guests joined the couple for dinner after the ceremony at Baron’s Cove in Sag Harbor.
“They have a hotel, so that felt like a cute, romantic spot,” added Jessica.
The Feldmans were one of 347 couples who were issued a marriage license in Southampton town in 2020, up from 324 couples who were issued marriage licenses in 2019. But as Schermeyer points out, the number of licenses issued in 2020 “would have been much higher” if the town hadn’t been forced to restrict marriage license applications to Southampton residents and tax payers only—a measure adopted by many respective town clerk offices, in response to the demand and the realities of Covid restrictions.
“Last year we had an overwhelming influx of people coming from New York City to Southampton to get married—the city office was closed, and the Project Cupid Program (which allowed NYC couples to schedule a virtual marriage license) was so backed up—so everyone headed here,” Schermeyer said. “We closed in March, adapted quickly to new guidelines, new technology and a reduced staff as the phones were ringing off the hook. We reopened to the public in June, and operate five days a week, from 9 to 4.”
In-person marriage licenses are now available to Southampton residents and taxpayers.
“We recommend checking our website and coming in with the proper paperwork,” adds Shermeyer.
And with spring around the corner, there is even more reason to bet on love in Southampton with the town board’s approval of a resolution to create The Windsor Heart Project – a tribute to civil rights and LGBTQ icon Edie Windsor, a longtime Southampton resident who famously led the U.S. Supreme Court challenge that ultimately lead to legalizing same-sex marriage in the United States. Windsor fought to have her marriage to longtime partner Thea Spyer recognized, after Windsor was hit with a huge inheritance tax bill after Spyer’s passing. Windsor sued the U.S. government, and won.
The Windsor Heart Project is a collaboration inspired by Windsor’s surviving widow Judith Kasen-Windsor, who approached Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman with the idea of honoring Edie in the town Edie so loved and summered in for 40 years. [Windsor and Kasen met in 2015, and married a year later. Windsor passed suddenly in 2017.] The project will consist of a heart-shaped stone platform of interlocking smaller hearts on the lawn outside of Southampton Town Hall where many couples are married.
“You don’t meet too many people like Edie Windsor, who have changed the world,” said Schneiderman, who literally poured over a drawing board, using his knowledge of math and masonry to figure out the interlocking ‘heart of hearts’—a unique design for an unquestionably unique and impactful person.
“Edie Windsor took on the United States Government’s Defense of Marriage Act, and she prevailed,” said Schneiderman. “She enabled millions of people to be able to share the blessings and protection of marriage…so we think it is a fitting tribute.”
The project will be funded entirely by private donations and will “be a place for all people to get married,” he added.
The plan includes an alter/podium with the words “love wins,” a popular slogan of the campaign to legalize same-sex marriage. The fundraising committee includes New York State Assemblywoman Rebecca Seawright (D-Manhattan), Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. (I-Sag Harbor), Southampton Town Clerk Sundy Schermeyer, CNN host Don Lemon, his fiancé Tim Malone, The View co-host Joy Behar and Dan’s Papers Publisher Victoria Schneps-Yunis.
Supporters of the Windsor Heart Project can buy an individual heart and have it inscribed to immortalize their own union. Benches for witness will be carved with inspiring quotes about love and will surround the heart, along with donated plantings. The hope is to break ground in early Summer and have a ribbon cutting in the Fall.
“Edie Windsor changed hearts and minds,” said Kasen-Windsor, “and anyone who chooses to get married on the steps of town hall will have this beautiful and fitting heart tribute to the woman who fought for marriage equality. She transformed lives…she was a lady of love. And love wins.”