San Diego

The Pandemic Messed Up Love, Too: County Marriages Hit 15-Year Low in 2020

Fewer people got married in San Diego County last year than in the last 15 years

NBC Universal, Inc.

The Chinese New Year and Valentine’s Day are usually among the busiest days at the county's marriage license and ceremony department. But it seems Cupid might have taken a year off last year.

Records from the county assessor’s office show marriage licenses and county ceremonies dropped by more than a third in 2020.

Less people got married in San Diego County last year than in the last 15 years. The romantics among us shouldn't be discouraged, though, because the numbers could be on the verge of turning around.

A little rain and wind couldn't scare lovebirds away from tying the knot at San Diego County's COVID-cautious makeshift marriage hut Friday morning.

NBC 7 cameras caught several couples hoping the Chinese New Year and Year of the Ox would bring good fortune to their new marriage.

Newlyweds Yvonne and Mohammed met online. After two years of dating and three months of an engagement, the pair decided they just didn’t want to wait any longer.

“We actually wanted a big wedding,” said Mohammed. “But COVID kind of slowed us down so we just decided to do it with our family and a couple of friends.”

“I mean why wait?!” said Yvonne.

San Diego County turned a concession stand into a place where lifelong memories begin, reports NBC's Greg Bledsoe.

But it seems like a lot of San Diego couples were waiting last year.

Less people got marriage licenses and got married at the county building in 2020 than in any other year for which the county has records (back to 2006).

On average, the county hands out 25,220 licenses a year. But in 2020 that number fell to 17,860 - that's a drop of more than 31%. County ceremonies went down by 32%.

“2020 was down!” said San Diego County Assessor, Recorder and Clerk Ernie Dronenburg.

He said the pandemic isn't just keeping folks from celebrating, it's also making it harder for people to meet their future spouses in the first place.

“Dating is gone because of COVID!” Dronenburg said.

Another big factor in the decline: Destination weddings made up 15-17% of weddings in San Diego County every year, weddings that just aren't happening until the tourism industry reopens.

“People want to get married!” Dronenburg said. “People meet people, or they’ve been planning to get married, and all of sudden we’ve taken that away from them.”

In an effort to give them an option back, his office commandeered a creative workaround: turning the snack shop outside the county administration building into an outdoor wedding altar.

“That’s the fun part of my job!” Dronenburg said. “People are so happy at this point in their life, and it’s something you want to be part of by making sure it can happen.”

After a slow 2020, it appears the tides may be changing in 2021. Dronenburg said the county’s ceremony waitlist is now two months long, suggesting more couples are starting to change their minds and opting for a pandemic matrimony after all.

To make an appointment for a marriage license and/or ceremony at the county building, click here.

Contact Us