Rambana’s sister, who was standing nearby, swooped in and pushed it back into place, avoiding any interruption to one of the District’s first marriages officiated by the D.C. Superior Court after courthouse ceremonies were halted due to the coronavirus pandemic.
After a nearly two-month suspension, marriages by the court resumed earlier this month. But like many celebrations since the coronavirus arrived, they are occurring virtually. Before they began the service, Magistrate Judge Raquel Trabal, officiating through her computer from her home, asked guests to hit their mute buttons.
“Should I mute myself?” Rambana asked, leaning into the laptop. “No, not you,” Trabal said.
“Are you guys ready?” Trabal asked. Roache and Rambana each responded “Yes.”
“Yay,” the judge responded. “Let’s begin.”
Court officials said 110 ceremonies that had been scheduled to be held in the courthouse were delayed when the court on March 17 ceased a majority of its operations after a deputy U.S. marshal tested positive for the novel coronavirus.
Now the court is busy rescheduling not only those weddings, but also processing license applications and scheduling new wedding ceremony requests.
According to the court, it seems the stay-at-home order has fueled an increased desire for wedded bliss. From March 18 through May 7, the court’s website received 1,225 petitions. During those same months last year, just 1,014 applications were filed. From April 16 through May 7, when D.C. area residents were in their second-straight month of confinement, the court received 839 applications, up from 533 applications for the same period a year ago.
Court officials said they have been working feverishly to ensure couples can tie the knot. Within the past month, the court’s information technology workers have been training judges and other court employees on using Web video conferencing for hearings and other events, including weddings.
“Court staff have been working long hours and judges have performed video weddings for the first time, all to ensure that we keep pace with the significantly increased demand for marriages,” said Judge Peter Krauthamer, head of the family court division which includes the marriage bureau.
Rambana and Roache live in Silver Spring and had tried to obtain a marriage license in Montgomery County. But at that time, the courthouse there was not processing licenses due to the pandemic. The couple opened D.C. Superior Court’s website and saw the court had resumed processing online applications and performing marriages. Couples do not have to be residents of the District to obtain a license, but their ceremony has to be performed in the city.
Roache and Rambana paid $45 for their application, license and to set the wedding date. Two weeks later, the night before the ceremony, they still had not decided on a location.
The evening before their nuptials, the couple agreed to gather at Meridian Hill Park in Northwest Washington, also known as Malcolm X Park to longtime residents. They chose to marry at the long, bricked staircase near the waterfall, which on this recent Friday morning in May, was shut off.
The couple has been dating since 2016. The two attended the same high school in Kingston, Jamaica, but did not know each other well since the school had separate classrooms for boys and girls.
Although neither knew it at the time, both immigrated to the United States after high school. Roache and her family moved to Newark, Del., and Rambana and his family moved to Silver Spring. While on Instagram one evening, Rambana sent Roache a private message, surprised that the two were now in the United States. Soon after that, they began dating.
During a sunset stroll through Rock Creek Park last month, 23-year-old Rambana decided to propose, after arriving at the realization that Roache was the one.
“If I come home and I’m tired, Jameila will make me dinner. She will ask me if I want my back rubbed. It’s nothing I’ve ever experienced with anybody before. I didn’t want to lose her. I wanted our relationship to be cemented,” he said after the ceremony.
The couple plans to have a larger celebration with a pastor and family and friends once social distancing restrictions are lifted. The small ceremony, they say, was less stressful and costly.
“This way we have the moment for ourselves,” Roache, 22, said. “It’s definitely cheaper than having a big wedding. The only downside was not having everyone I wanted there. But at the end of the day, the wedding is about two people.”
In addition to Rambana’s sister, his mother and stepfather also attended. Roache’s mother was not able to be there in person, but waved at everyone through FaceTime over her daughter’s cellphone. As the ceremony began, Roache placed her phone next to the laptop so it could access WiFi through her phone’s hotspot.
Roache, a cybersecurity major at Montgomery College and Home Depot employee, had planned to wear a white dress. But she decided on a black dress Rambana’s mother bought her months earlier from Dress Barn, which she had never worn. “It was more simple and it went with what I wanted it all to be, simplicity,” she said.
In her hands, she clutched a dozen long-stemmed red roses that Rambana had presented her. “Roses have more elegance, I guess,” she said.
Rambana donned a black suit jacket and a pair of black pants, both of which he owned since he lived in Jamaica, black tie and white shirt and his Clarks black shoes.
Rambana, a package deliverer for Amazon and Montgomery College nursing student, said neither of them had ever heard of a virtual wedding. So he jumped on one of his favorite Internet sites, Reddit, and showed his fiancee photos and stories about how such ceremonies would look.
“Because of the corona thing right now, we didn’t really have any other choice at the moment,” he said. “They weren’t offering the other type of wedding.”
The couple picked the spacious park because the open sky, birds, trees and flowers remind them of home.
The ceremony lasted less than 10 minutes. After the judge’s words and exchanging of rings, the couple kissed, the judge congratulated them and it was over. As the judge reminded them, it was a civil ceremony. No prayers, no songs, no traditional wedding rituals. “It was a brief ceremony, wasn’t it?” Roache said later. “I thought it was going to be longer. But she got straight to the point.”
Afterward, the couple and their family stopped by a local TGIF restaurant and picked up some barbecue ribs before returning to Silver Spring for dinner and wine.
Roache (pronounced like the insect) says she plans to take Rambana’s name. “I don’t really like my last name,” she said with a laugh.
Now, she said, she would recommend a virtual wedding. But only to those who want to keep things simple.
“A lot of people don’t think it’s a legitimate way to get married. That was a small concern for me. I was worried if it would feel like the real thing. But it felt the same.”
“It doesn’t matter where you get married or how many people watch you get married,” she said. “At the end of the day, it’s about the commitment and promise you made to each other. That’s what makes a wedding a wedding.”