It was like no wedding I’d ever been to. Yes, there were guests, flowers, even champagne. But in this time of physical distancing due to the COVID-19 pandemic, one major thing was missing: Physical contact.
Bri Houk and Lindsey Leaverton know a thing or two about distance. They started their courtship without ever having met in person. Both have children and knew the likelihood of meeting someone at a grocery store or public place was slim, so they turned to online dating. They matched on the queer women’s dating app “Her,” and started to get to know each other. Soon after, Houk and Leaverton went on their first date, on what happened to be Leaverton’s birthday. “Bri said, ‘This might just be the best birthday present you’ve had in your whole life,’ and she was right,” says Leaverton.
After years of dating the two had their dream wedding planned out. They wanted to marry at an historic mansion in Austin, Texas, where their guests would sip cocktails on the front lawn while watching the sunset. Then the COVID-19 pandemic brought life to a screeching halt. Group gatherings in Texas were banned in early March, putting their perfect wedding on hold.
But that didn’t stop the pair from celebrating. Houk and Leaverton decided to have their own private exchanging of vows on the day they were supposed to wed. They discussed plans for a future wedding and how long they would have to wait. As it turned out, waiting was not an option—one of their relatives had recently been diagnosed with COVID-19. That’s when inspiration struck: They would plan a new wedding at a drive-in theatre. And they had 17 days to get it all done.
Their wedding planner created a very specific timeline to keep everybody safe. “The ways of getting together and maintaining social distancing were amazing,” Leaverton says. “They had to have a strict schedule so none of the vendors would see each other.” Microphones were sanitized, waiters wore masks and bathrooms were disinfected after anyone used them.
The most important rule was that all guests had to remain in their cars. “I think that was one of the hardest things about getting married at a drive-in theatre, in the middle of a pandemic when everyone is trying to practice social distancing,” Houk says. “All of these people show up to love and support you, but you’re not able to embrace them. You’re not able to show how much love and appreciation you have for them.”
The brides weren’t the only ones dressed for the occasion. Guests were encouraged to decorate their cars for the special day. Messages of love, support and rainbows brought the parking lot to life. One car in particular brought tears to the happy couple: Leaverton’s parents were parked front and centre. “I started getting so choked up and emotional. Not because of the whole story and everything that was going on, but you know, when I came out in 2009, it was really hard for them,” she says. “I would have never guessed in a million years that they would attend my wedding.”
Before coming out, Leaverton was a Christian singer, worship leader and recording artist. “I came out in 2009, and in the course of three weeks lost everything,” she says. “I lost my career and started waiting tables.” Now working in finance, Leaverton says it was against the odds that she found love and a partner for life. “There is nothing that can stand in the way of love, as cheesy as it sounds. Give me a door, we’re going to bust through it. It doesn’t matter.”
The couple said “I do” in front of a packed lot. Cars honked, people cheered and love won under the threat of a pandemic. “It was important for us to push through this vision that we had of getting married. Yes, because of our family member. Yes, because we’re not promised tomorrow,” Houk says, noting that their family member is now recovering from COVID-19.
“But this is a difficult time for every single person,” she continues. “Every single person is suffering from something during this pandemic and I think that it gave some people some hope and some light in a really dark time.”