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Federal judge rejects motion to allow full-sized Ottowa County wedding

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(The Center Square) – A federal judge has denied a couple’s request for a temporary restraining order. The couple pursued the legal avenue in order to allow their wedding celebration to proceed in violation of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s rules barring gatherings that exceed 10 people inside or 100 people outside.

The soon-to-be-married couple apparently downsized their wedding scheduled for Friday, but had sued state officials last week, arguing the First Amendment protected their wedding.

In his decision, Chief United States District Judge Robert J. Jonker cited the couple’s then-publicly available website that downsized the wedding to only family, within Whitmer’s guidelines.

“[T]here is certainly nothing in the present litigation record that indicates the bride and groom will be unable to solemnize their marriage this Friday as planned, as a matter of both religious practice and governmental recognition,” Jonker wrote.

“They may not be able to have the full party they originally planned, but they can certainly get married in a way recognized by church and state and celebrate with a more limited array of guests.”

Jonker wrote that the size of wedding receptions aren’t “the core interests” protected by the First Amendment and religious practices.

The court must also balance private and public harm, the judge wrote.

“Business losses are real and substantial. So are the risks of spreading infectious disease,” Jonker wrote. “An appointed judge’s ad hoc decisions on the tradeoffs are no better than those of an elected Governor.”

David Vansolkema and Kiley Stuller had planned to host a full-sized wedding Friday at the Baker Events’ property in Holland, Michigan, but the Ottawa County Department of Public Health on July 2 issued Baker Events a “cease and desist order.”

American Freedom Law Center Senior Counsel Robert Muise had argued the First Amendment protected marriages from local restrictions such as social gatherings limits.

Muise cited Whitmer’s Executive Order 2020-110 that states: “nothing in this order shall be taken to abridge protections guaranteed by the state or federal constitution under these emergency circumstances” and compared the wedding to ongoing protests against police brutality.

The couple filed the suit last Friday, which is still ongoing.

The venue has 134 weddings booked through the rest of the year, the lawsuit says, and the continued restrictions will cause “serious harm,” noting that 24 weddings have already been canceled and 51 postponed.

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