By Maureen Thomson
You have your flowers, your marriage license and your witnesses are with you. Everyone awaits your entrance…..you glide into the room looking serene, in control and ready to take your walk down the aisle. But in this wedding scenario, a new twist has been added, before you take that short walk you’ll need to pass through the metal detector to ensure that you didn’t stuff a 9mm Beretta or a pipe bomb into your bouquet . Welcome to the County Courthouse wedding experience!
A Courthouse wedding may seem like the answer to your problems (it’s cheap, it’s fast, it’s virtually anonymous). Of course we all know the joke about cheap, fast and anonymous….Oh well, maybe we shouldn’t go there. Anyway, I’m here to give you some perfectly lovely alternatives that will ensure your wedding day is remembered with a smile rather than a grimace.
Why would you be thinking that the courthouse is the ideal answer instead of an elopement or something similar? Perhaps you’re on a tight budget, or you’ve been planning a big wedding, but the pressure is getting to you so you’re going to chuck the whole thing in favor of some simple “I do’s” before a local justice of the peace. Or maybe you’re a total introvert and the thought of proclaiming undying love and commitment in front of 200 of your friends, family members and your boss is not exactly up your alley. Safer to head downtown on a Tuesday afternoon with only your honey as witness if you mumble and fumble your vows! Or you’d rather focus on the marriage rather than the wedding, so the idea of a quick, legal ceremony sounds appealing. Maybe you’re pregnant and want the legal part “over with”. Or perhaps somewhere in your warped pre-wedding-stressed brain, you’ve convinced yourself that spiriting away to the County Courthouse is daring and romantic. (Note: it’s more like drab and depressing.) I have three little words for you that will have huge impact. DON’T DO IT!
Let me script a scenario for you about how the day might go if you opt for the courthouse ceremony. Your wedding day! You’re so excited, you wake up early and bound out of bed filled with energy and optimism. Unfortunately, this all-encompassing aura of lightness is going to be shattered when you arrive at the courthouse. When you arrive at the granite columned edifice you will be greeted at the front door by the heavily armed security guard who will ‘usher’ you through the metal detector, and you will queue up behind all the less than happy citizens who happened to pull jury duty for that day.This will feel especially awkward if you’ve opted to don formal wedding attire. (Hey, get a load of the guy in the tuxedo and the gal in the meringue dress!)
The metallic clip that secures your wedding-day hairdo will undoubtedly set off the alarm. “Female assist to main entrance” will be broadcast over the PA and you will be shunted to the holding area to await a full pat search by some female county employee. Just what you need, some civil servant putting their mitts all over (and under) your nice white wedding dress. The public will look on, either amused or beaming looks of “Poor thing” your way. Your sweetie, who no doubt has the wedding rings in his pocket will receive similar treatment. After you’ve run this gauntlet, you will be advised to proceed to room 3B to receive your marriage license.
Once there, you’ll be given the “opportunity” to take a number and wait your turn to be called. It will feel vaguely familiar to you. You’ll ponder this familiarity, wondering why you have a distinct sense of déjà vu when you know you’ve never set foot in the clerk’s office in your life. But then it dawns on you. This place has the same feel as the DMV, complete with drab walls, bored employees in cubicles, copious amounts of bureaucratic paperwork and the interminable wait. By now you’re starting to think you should have popped a few bucks for the chapel down the street.
At long last, your number is called and you and your intended eagerly approach the window, where you are asked a number of questions by the cubicle-inhabiting worker, who ultimately–and with no acknowledgement that this is a very big day for you indeed–hands you your marriage license and drones, “Courtroom number 705, down the hall to the right, take the elevator to the 7th floor….NEXT!!!” You make your way over to the elevator, relieved to have the paperwork in your hands and confident that you are on your way.
You head up to the seventh floor, but as you are pushing the elevator button, you hear an unfamiliar clanking and shuffling. You turn to see a sheriff, escorting a sullen looking man in prison scrubs who is wearing both handcuffs and leg shackles. Oh, didn’t you know that the county jail is in the basement of this building? After all, we all deserve our day in court, whether it’s for elopement or arraignment. You all shuffle into the elevator–some shuffling more than others. You wonder if it would be inappropriate to mutter, “have a nice day,” as the guard and his shadow exit the elevator on the 3rd floor. You don’t want to be rude.
But wait, another couple enters the elevator as the doors are closing. Phew! At least these folks are not in leg irons. In fact, they look quite respectable. But then you get a good look at her and notice that her face is twisted into a mask of rage and she looks like she is going to have a stroke at any minute. ”That shiftless **(*)!!!, I want his head in a vise! Better yet, gouge out both his eyes and break his knees! Run off with that hussie Gloria, will he? He’s going to regret the day he met me…. yadda, yadda, yadda.” The man with her, which it is now completely clear is a Member of the Bar, attempts to talk her down out of her tree, but to no avail. She is bent on revenge and he is tool of choice. Ding. Fifth floor. Ladies lingerie, giftware, housewares….divorce court.
Good grief! You can’t wait to get off this elevator which has become a portable display life’s miseries. Finally the doors open and you make your way to the clerk of the court’s desk where you present your paperwork for inspection and blessing by the High Priestess of the Judicial Calendar. She sardonically informs you that Hiz Honor will be with you shortly. What she conveniently forgets to tell you is that ‘your’ Judge is currently sitting for final arguments in a bankruptcy hearing and that he won’t be free until around noon. It’s now 10:30 AM. Having no other viable options, you plunk yourselves down on a carved oak bench and await the arrival of His Imminence. But you begin to wonder whether you should chuck all this, run to the airport and fly standby to Vegas right now. Elvis is a skintight plastic suit is starting to sound pretty appealing.
As promised, around noon the judge comes out and introduces himself and ushers you into his chambers. Oddly, you think you detect the smell or pastrami and kraut wafting along and when you get to his office, sure as heck, there is a mostly eaten sandwich sitting on the corner of his desk. Not to worry, he decorously sweeps the entire mess into the rubbish bin and summons himself to the task at hand. Your moment has arrived.
Okay, I’ll stop here. The preceding might seem a bit over the top, but you get the flavor. More than likely, you’re not going to have a wedding ceremony upon which you’ll look back with fond memories if you opt for a courthouse wedding. Please, in the name of true love, consider other options. Here are some ideas to get you started.
Hire a professional wedding officiant who offers an elopement ceremony. The cost of an elopement ceremony is only slightly more than a courthouse wedding, generally less than $200. Some celebrants even offer a mid-week discount on their rates.
Write your own ceremony and have a friend perform it. Many states will give a layperson one-time credentials to legally perform a wedding ceremony. Also, one may obtain an online ordination through an institution such as the Universal Life Church and most states will recognize this as legally binding.
If it’s an issue of money, consider delaying your wedding for a few months until you can save for something a notch above the courthouse. I’m not saying you have to spend $20 grand and invite everyone you know. But a small backyard wedding with a handful of close friends and your parents followed by a potluck picnic and wedding cake will be a better tribute to the start of your married life than being married in the judge’s chambers after a six hour wait.
If you feel you absolutely must have a courthouse wedding, then at least consider that as merely the legal portion of your commitment. Prior to the courthouse appointment–or just after–escape with your honey (and maybe a handful of loved ones if you wish) to a romantic location. At that spot, exchange your vows–heartfelt ones that symbolize your unique love and values. Then seal the deal with the exchange of rings. Let that experience be the one you remember when you look back upon the start of your married life.
And if the above hasn’t convinced you to eschew the courthouse wedding, I have but one more pearl of wisdom to throw your way. Have you noticed how similar the word “courthouse” is to the word “outhouse”? Two little letters make up the only difference.
And wouldn’t you rather begin your married life with a flourish as opposed to a flush?
Maureen Thomson is a wedding officiant and owner of Lyssabeth’s Elopements, providing intimate elopement and destination weddings in California, Colorado and Oregon.
Plan a Wedding Resources