There were no limousines. No bridesmaids. No DJs or caterers or 300-person receptions.
Just 12 couples, a podium and a county clerk. And vows, recited across clasped hands. Better or worse. Sickness and health. They promised to endure it all.
“There’s no better day to get married than Valentine’s Day,” said Robert Duckworth, clerk of the Circuit Court of Anne Arundel County as he began his fourth wedding yesterday, just before 10:30 a.m. “And there’s no better gift to give each other than love.”
A courthouse might not seem like the epicenter of romance. Instead of arches and ushers, there are metal detectors and security guards. But where else (outside of Vegas) can a couple just show up and legally bond themselves to each other? It’s first come, first serve, so if there’s a crowd, your wedding might have to wait.
But the line moves quickly, and on Valentine’s day no one seems to mind the delay. Plus, a few entrepreneurial office workers set up a bake sale to satiate the masses.
Ryan McHenry, in a strapless cream gown and pearls, pressed her lips together as Matthew Byczkowski read the words he’d written to her from his iPhone. In response she pulled a folded paper out of the bust of her dress.
“My final vow,” she told him, “is to always be an avid and loyal Ravens fan. I’ll be sitting right next to you on the couch.” They picked up their toddler daughter and infant son, and led a parade of family to pose for pictures on a nearby lawn.
One couple requested a ceremony in Spanish. Another met through the Internet while she was living in Brazil and he was in Maryland. One pair wheeled their 10-week-old baby in a stroller. Another brought three of their four adult children.
Robert Duckworth didn’t know weddings would be such a big part of his job when he joined the Circuit Court 21 years ago. But he’s presided over more than 7,000 nuptials, and lobbied for the renovation of ceremony room that now has vaulted ceilings, church pews and soft lighting. “I don’t like them to be bureaucratic,” he said of the weddings. “I like them to be special.”
Just before 3 p.m. he pronounced Walter Lachewitz Jr. and Solimar Alvez husband and wife. The groom, in a charcoal suit, kissed his new wife, who wore a red dress, white satin gloves and rhinestone bangles.
“Now,” Duckworth said. “I want you two to go off and make Cupid proud.”