Heather and Bryan Orr stand on their front porch in South Portland a day after getting married live on Facebook so their families could be in virtual attendance during the coronavirus pandemic. Only the marriage officiant, a photographer and two witnesses joined them at Willard Beach in real life.

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SOUTH PORTLAND, Maine — More than 50 guests attended Heather and Bryan Orr’s sunset wedding overlooking Willard Beach on Sunday — but only four people were there. A celebrant led them through their vows, a photographer snapped visual keepsakes and two legal witnesses — required by Maine law — made it official.

Everyone else watched on Facebook Live.

“I think the livestream lasted 16 minutes. It was really fun to go through afterwards, looking at all the likes and comments — and people dressed up for it, too, which was adorable,” Heather said on Monday. “There were people in their houses, wearing ties, taking pictures of themselves.”

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It’s a sign of the times. With the raging coronavirus pandemic, the couple could not have a traditional ceremony with live guests mingling, dancing and carrying on. It wouldn’t be safe — or legal right now. Instead, they opted for a small in-person celebration with everyone else watching on screens from a safe distance.

Tuning in were local friends as well as family in Kittery, upstate New York, California and Canada’s Yukon Territory.

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Bryan had given Heather his great-grandmother’s 1930s engagement ring, and they’d talked about tying the knot some time in the next year.

“But with this coronavirus pandemic going on, that wasn’t going to happen. There’s no way people would be able to come,” Heather said.

Instead of waiting for some undetermined time in the distant future, when it would again be safe for their far-flung families to travel, they decided not to wait. The idea came to Heather three weeks ago, as they were getting ready for work.

“I was like, ‘Let’s just do it now,’” she said.

“I was all for it,” Bryan said.

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With city hall closed, they downloaded a marriage license from South Portland’s website, filled it out and went to a UPS store to get it notarized. They laid the paper on the counter and then stepped back 6 feet to let the clerk get to work. Then, they mailed it to the city and waited for it to come back, all official.

Alise Snyder performed the ceremony on Sunday.

“I can’t say I stood 6 feet away because I would have had to yell the entire ceremony,” said Snyder, a professional celebrant. “But everyone else stood very far away. The photographer had a mask on.”

Snyder had never done a wedding live on Facebook before but she wasn’t too surprised. The coronavirus pandemic is forcing many couples to alter their plans.

“I’ve already had couples change their dates or cancel because of the COVID-19 situation,” Snyder said. “But these guys were unique, definitely different.”

One large, 200-person wedding Snyder was due to officiate in May has been scaled down to just the couple getting hitched, elopement-style, with a larger celebration in the fall, maybe.

“We don’t know what’s happening,” Snyder said. “Right now [spring weddings] are getting pushed to August through October — and it’s getting hard for couples to find venues or public places that are open.”

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As Bryan and Heather’s big day approached, South Portland officials threatened to close Willard Beach because people were not taking social distancing seriously. That hasn’t happened yet and the couple were able to go through with it.

It turned out to be Heather’s grandparent’s wedding anniversary and she held a locket containing their pictures, along with her flowers.

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It was her sister’s idea to livestream the event. At first, Heather thought the idea sounded too hokey but came around when her mother got excited about the prospect. It also seemed to be a positive, life-affirming step to take in the middle of an anxiety-ridden stretch of history.

“It actually worked out really well,” Heather said. “And I’m impatient. I didn’t want to wait two years until maybe we’re able to get together.”

Plus, Heather and Bryan agreed, it was also kind of fun, too.

“There’s a cool novelty to getting married in the midst of a pandemic,” Bryan said. “It kind of caters to my own sense of humor, more or less.”

The Orrs are not the first — or likely the last — couple to broadcast their scaled-down wedding on Facebook. Similar stories are starting to appear in local and national media. Multitudes of how-to, DIY online wedding articles are popping up on the internet as the virus forces people to adapt.

When it was over, the Orrs went back to their houses a few blocks from the beach, put on pajamas and had a fancy Italian dinner Bryan’s family had delivered to them. Then, they cut a cake Heather’s mom had sent over. They posted pictures of that on Facebook, too.

“Then we watched “Ghostbusters” just because we love it,” Heather said. “The original, of course.”

The Orrs said they hope someday their families eventually get together for a real party — they just don’t know when.

“My mom is already planning the celebration we’ll have,” Heather said. “At some point.”

Watch: Nirav Shah talks about the impact of coronavirus on rural Maine

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Troy R. Bennett

Troy R. Bennett is a Buxton native and longtime Portland resident whose photojournalism has appeared in media outlets all over the world.