Metal-Detector Marriages

By Christina Breda Antoniades
Sunday, February 12, 2006

It may not be the stuff of matrimonial dreams, but getting hitched at the D.C. courthouse can be surprisingly romantic

On most days, there isn't much about the District's cavernous H. Carl Moultrie I Courthouse that says "love and marriage" -- no tossed rice, no tuxedo-clad grooms or bouquet-clutching brides. But the jittery and jubilant couples are indeed there, sprinkled in among those making their way past metal detectors to fight criminal charges or lodge civil complaints. The following portraits, shot in the Marriage Bureau's tiny but cozy wedding chamber over several days this winter, give just a hint of the romance to be found there.

Roberto Tapia-Cerda, 29, and Erika Pereira, 26

Roberto Tapia-Cerda, 29, and Erica Pereira, 26.
Roberto Tapia-Cerda, 29, and Erica Pereira, 26.(Scott Robinson)
Roberto, a former wine marketing rep, and Erika, an Indian-American public school teacher, met in 2002 while Erika was in Roberto's homeland of Chile, teaching English. "A co-worker of mine invited a group of teachers to a salsa club where he was playing music," Erika says. "He also happened to be a friend of Roberto's." The two hit it off, continuing their relationship even after Erika returned to the United States in 2003. Two years later, after Erika went back to Chile for a three-month visit, they started talking about marriage. "It wasn't any fairy-tale proposal," says Erika. "I was getting ready to leave again, and we're just like, 'Okay, we can't just keep doing this.'"

The moment of truth: Their second date, an afternoon spent drinking tea at a cafe, says Roberto. Erika was just learning Spanish, and Roberto didn't speak English. Regardless, Roberto says, he could tell that they had a lot in common, from a similar take on the arts and culture to complementary political and family values. "I saw that she thinks very similar to me; she could be my other half," he says. "When I went with my car to drop her off I thought, 'I'll marry her.'"

Who set the date: Roberto's immigration attorney. They plan a bigger wedding, with both families in attendance, in Richmond in August, "but we wanted to speed things up," says Erika. "The lawyer said to just get married now."

Witnesses: Erika's mother, father, sister, aunt, family friends and two college buddies.

The only thing missing: "Just all my family being there," says Erika. "I have a really big family, and his is in Chile, so [the wedding in August] is an opportunity to get everyone together."

Plans for the rest of the day: "We're going to an Indian restaurant with family and friends, and in the evening we'll do a happy hour with all of our friends," says Erika. "We're working tomorrow."

Cost of the wedding: About $685, including $35 for the application fee, $10 for the marriage certificate, and $40 for blood tests, plus about $400 for lunch and $200 for Erika's dress.

Ernest Keys, 40, and Klea Jackson, 47

Ernest Keys, 40, and Klea Jackson, 47.
Ernest Keys, 40, and Klea Jackson, 47.(Scott Robinson)
Ernest, who owns a lawn-care service and does renovation work, met Klea, a certified addiction counselor and mother of four, in early 2005 through their church in Southeast Washington. The two had plenty of opportunity to get to know each other: They both volunteered every Tuesday and Thursday morning delivering food to the poor, served on the church board (he's an usher; she's financial secretary), and attended Bible study twice a week. "So we saw each other a lot," says Klea. It took about a month before they started dating. By August, they were engaged. But while their relationship is no secret, they kept their civil marriage ceremony almost entirely to themselves. "We're supposed to go through counseling at church, and we didn't," says Klea. "So we didn't tell anyone." Well, with a single exception. "One of his customers called on the phone for some work," says Klea. "He said, 'No, we're getting married. I can't do it.'"

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