Recently, a photographer in Lakewood, New Jersey was issued a summons while photographing a backyard wedding. As a result, Yakov Makukha could receive a penalty of up to $1,000 and up to 6 months jail time. Over the same weekend, New Jersey police broke up several events that violated the executive stay-at-home order issued by Governor Phil Murphy. It does appear that the root of many of the recent violations and subsequent arrests stems from misinformation disseminated via social media.
It is reported that a letter began to circulate in late April claiming Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal had approved small wedding gatherings as an exception to the stay-at-home order. Word of the letter quickly spread through social media channels and spurred public outrage. Many Lakewood citizens spoke out against the rumored small wedding gathering exception, saying it was an unjust and an unequal exception while many other citizens have voiced anger at the initial social gathering ban itself.
When police arrived at the small wedding, Makukha was photographing a family of six in the backyard while two adults and three children waited in a van in the driveway for their round of family photos, possibly in an attempt to have no more than 10 people on the premises. Nine adults in total were issued summons by Lakewood police at the home event. A spokesman from the Attorney General’s Office was quoted, “The Attorney General’s Office has neither reviewed nor approved any plans with respect to weddings at catering halls or elsewhere in New Jersey.”
It appears the ceremony itself was not the issue and that the backyard ceremony was only barely over the 10-person limit Lakewood has set. Ocean County Prosecutor Bradley Billhimer said, “Marriage ceremony itself is not an issue, as long as it comports with the requirements of all of the [Executive orders] and [Administrative orders]. Less than 10 people total, social distancing, and wearing masks.”
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