In a somewhat surprising turn of events back in May of 2019, the San Francisco city hall County Clerk’s office had finally decided to begin enforcing the maximum 6 guest rule. I personally spoke with officials at the County Clerk’s office at that time and they understand that this rule may cause some hardship for brides and grooms, but their hand was forced. For years, SF City Hall has looked the other way as couples seeking a civil ceremony have violated the rule of 6 maximum. Many couples took the rules seriously or only invited a few people over the maximum. Well behaved groups of 10 or 12 people did not cause much concern or problems and so the Marriage Commissioners were able to allow the overage.
Why it all Changed
However, in recent years couples were increasingly attempting to take advantage of the 6 person rule, because it was reportedly “not enforced”. We began to see groups of 20, 30 and even 36 for our city hall weddings. Suddenly without warning, there was an issue in the Mayors Office and also the Board of Supervisors. One particularly large wedding group disrupted an official meeting. This brought an end to couples being allowed to bend the rules. The crack down occurred and it became fully enforced by the County Clerk in May of 2019. Then Covid-19 came along and things got even more strict. UPDATE: I am reposting this blog because as of the Month of August, 2023, we again are seeing a significant loosening of enforcement of the 6 guest limit again. I photographed a wedding with a prominent city hall Marriage Commissioner who told our client not to worry about the fact that they had 14 guests. This is the 2nd consecutive wedding with well over 6 people that was allowed by various city hall officiants.
The Final Straw at City Hall’s Rotunda
The moment of truth occurred a month before the rule enforcement, when an extremely large crowd of guests attended what was supposed to be a small civil ceremony. In addition to the noise and disruption caused by this group, they also had small children running around. Ultimately, the County Clerk’s received complaints from both the Mayor Office and the Board of Supervisors. Excess noise and the sheer volume of people affected important meetings and other city hall activities. So now the County Clerk’s office has no choice but to act. My own speculation is that weddings could be suspended or reduced in the future if this problem cannot be controlled. As a temporary solution, City Hall will be accommodating previously booked weddings on the 4th floor if they are larger than the 6 maximum. Since that time, all newly booked weddings will see the rule enforced along with changes to the San Francisco city hall website with additional warnings. With the reopening of city hall, there is even less leeway for allowing more than 6 guests. In fact, San Francisco city hall has taken steps to really control the crowds by limiting weddings each day. Only 2 weddings per half hour now (previously was 3 per half hour). In addition, weddings will no longer be scheduled after 1pm Monday through Friday. NOTE: I am leaving this portion of the blog post up because it is still unclear to me which direction this is going. Suffice it to say that there clearly is no consistency now on the enforcement of this rule.
Alternatives to a San Francisco Civil Ceremony
Fortunately, SF City Hill does offer alternatives for couples seeking a wedding with more guests. You can reserve the Mayors Balcony or 4th floor North Gallery for 1 hour at the very low price of $1,000. They set up chairs for your guests and allow up to 60 guests depending upon location. We have performed many such “reserved weddings” and they work out great. Despite the fact that this option costs considerably more than a simple civil ceremony, it is still a relative bargain when compared to other San Francisco venues. You have the added advantage of one of best destinations in the Western states for wedding photography. The one hour reservation time also provides you with time for doing your group and family photography in an enclosed environment without tourist roaming through your shots. Even with the inconsistent enforcement of the rule mentioned above, reserved weddings remain the only way to guarantee that all of your guests can witness your nuptials.
“City Hall Wedding Photographer by Michael” is one of the leading town hall photographers with over 600 marriages documented. To learn more check out our home page for city hall weddings.