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Philly photographer: Free services to LGBTQ couples marrying before Trump inauguration

When she started planning her wedding, Amber Cineus said one of her biggest fears was meeting with a photographer just to be turned away. She was afraid her fiancée's unisex name, Corey Michener, would lead to uncomfortable meetings and flat-out "no's" from potential wedding photographers when the two women showed up.

"It's a scary thing to do," she said. "Looking for a photographer that's LGBTQ-friendly and affordable and kind."

The couple was one of the first to accept Philadelphia-based photographer Ian Shiver's offer to photograph City Hall weddings for LGBTQ couples who want to be legally married before President-elect Donald Trump's inauguration on Jan. 20.

Shiver owns Viva Love Photography. He began offering the free shoots when heard from a lesbian couple whose wedding he was booked to shoot in upstate New York next year. Because of Trump's election, they decided to get legally married before Jan. 20. The couple asked him if he would shoot the courthouse ceremony in addition to their big wedding in 2017.

Shiver offered to shoot the ceremony and a more spontaneous and romantic portrait session afterward — all for free.

"It felt weird to charge because it was a decision that was fear-based, or at least precautionary," he said. "It made me realize that a lot of people were probably feeling the same way. That same fear and uncertainty.

"I'm less affected by [the election results] than a lot of other people," he added. "This is one very small thing that I can do to either help a little or at least spread some positivity."

Shriver's offer includes capturing the actual marriage document-signing and ceremony, then taking the couples around the city for a portrait session to "make it more wedding-y" than a courthouse photo shoot.

"[The portrait session is about] taking something that is more quiet and fear-based and turning it into a loud and prideful moment," he said. "[So they're] not just [getting married] because they're afraid."

On Saturday, Shiver said he had received about 50 emails about his offer.

Cineus and Michener have been engaged since July 2015, but they weren't planning to tie the knot until next summer. However, as the election neared, they started joking that they "just might need to do this." Their anniversary is in December, so it's a "more meaningful" time to get married, Michener said, but the election results motivated them to start rushing through the planning process.

About two weeks ago, the couple started seriously planning their wedding. On Wednesday, the day after Election Day, they got their marriage license.

"That morning we woke up and the results were all over," Cineus said. "We looked at each other like, 'Today's the day.' " They would have signed the documents that day if it had been an option, she added.

Cineus and Michener heard about Shiver's offer through Brendan Lowry, a mutual friend who runs the popular Philadelphia-based Instagram account, Peopledelphia.

Michener said she was out shopping for wedding dresses with her mother when Lowry sent her a direct message on Instagram letting her know about the offer. She immediately called Cineus and asked, "This is crazy, but should we ask this guy to shoot our wedding?"

The next day, they were planning with Shiver.

Cineus said she's feeling different about getting married, but is happy that Shiver wants to "document something beautiful … especially at a time like this when you're not the most hopeful about people."

"I was fighting for [marriage equality] since I came out when I was 14," Cineus said. "You go to all these rallies and Pride to get marriage and equality, and then you get it and take it for granted for a few years because you don't think it can just be taken away."

"I guess the election kind of scared me into rushing," she added. "It was like, 'I don't want to lose you and I don't want to lose this opportunity' … It's almost like a shotgun wedding without the baby. Or the boyfriend."

Shiver said Naila Francis, an officiant from Journeys of the Heart, offered to match his offer and officiate weddings.

Couples can reach out to Shiver through Viva Love Photography's website. He is willing to shoot city hall weddings for LGBTQ couples anywhere for travel and lodging.

Michener said that moving forward, she and Cineus are "scared, but confident."

"This might not be the right choice for everyone, but it's the right choice for us," she added. "I know that I'm spending the rest of my life with her either way."