Of all the casualties of the federal government shutdown — sidelined employees, shuttered museums, the dark Panda Cam at the National Zoo — few anticipated this one: holy matrimony.
Dewy-eyed couples planning to tie the knot in the nation’s capital have been doused with cold reality: The courthouse office that issues marriage licenses is closed.
It doesn’t matter that the event space is booked. Or that guests have checked into the hotel. Or that the floral arrangements are starting to wilt.
The Marriage Bureau at D.C. Superior Court is not open.
Even though Congress allows the city to spend its own revenue to maintain D.C. operations during a federal shutdown, the local courts are funded by the federal government.
And while court hearings are proceeding and juries are being seated, the Marriage Bureau is considered a nonessential function and has been suspended, along with bar admissions, the judicial library and a child-care center.
Claire O’Rourke, 33, learned the hard way when she went on the D.C. Superior Court website Wednesday to print out an application for her marriage license before her Jan. 12 wedding. Instead, she saw red text blaring “The Marriage Bureau is closed during the government shutdown.”
“It never occurred to me that this very tiny aspect would shut down right when I needed it the most,” said O’Rourke, a Capitol Hill resident and lobbyist who is planning a 140-person wedding at a Chinatown hotel.
“It’s a surprising thing to happen in the final few weeks when you’re getting ready for your wedding,” said O’Rourke, who angrily texted the news to her fiance, Sam Bockenhauer, using words that can’t be printed in a newspaper. “Little inconveniences — and this isn’t exactly a little inconvenience — are very frustrating.”
Without a license, a marriage is not legal and lacks the advantages for taxes, property ownership and hospital visitation. Officiants also need to be licensed by the D.C. Marriage Bureau, and O’Rourke is waiting to find out if the relative planning to conduct her wedding is already authorized.
In a stroke of good luck, local officials repealed penalties for holding a wedding without a license more than a decade ago. But D.C. law still requires officiants to send the court a signed marriage license within 10 days of a ceremony. Failure to do so results in a $50 fine for the officiant, not the happy couple.
Danielle Geanacopoulos and Dan Pollock, who fell in love as Democratic staffers on the Hill, showed up at the locked bureau on Dec. 27, two days before their wedding. They left without a license but a determination to carry on.
“We just took in stride, and it was a great party with our friends and families,” said Pollock, who celebrated the unofficial nuptials with the hashtag #MyBigFakeGreekWedding.
They now plan either a civil ceremony in New York, where they’ve relocated, or will return to the District for a second, smaller “mock wedding” at a beer garden.
“Hey, a second wedding? Can’t hurt right?” said Pollock, who first shared his story with BuzzFeed News.
O’Rourke hopes the shutdown will end before next Saturday and that she and Bockenhauer can get a same-day marriage license. And she’s trying to relax.
“We’ll have a lovely party with all of our family and friends and exchange vows and whenever courts open back up, we’ll have a license,” said O’Rourke.
But the license isn’t their only complication. The couple was planning photographs at the National Portrait Gallery, which is among the Smithsonian museums that are closed.
O’Rourke says her experience cemented her view that the District should become a state. “We get no representation in Congress, but Congress is able to prevent you from getting a marriage license,” she said.
Meanwhile, D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) plans to introduce emergency legislation that would allow her office to issue marriage licenses during a government shutdown. The bill is expected to come before the D.C. Council on Tuesday.
“Just like the Grinch can’t steal Christmas, the shutdown can’t stop love,” said John Falcicchio, the mayor’s chief of staff.