DC Civil Ceremony Details?
March 22, 2010 10:50 AM   Subscribe

Civil ceremony! What's it gonna be like? We're gettin' hitched in DC.

My partner and I are getting married in about three weeks. Yay! We're working very hard to keep it as low-key and casual an event as we can muster (not minimizing our excitement and joy over the event, just over the actual ceremony & overall day). It will be performed in the DC courthouse, mid-day, mid-week.

I'm having a bit of trouble figuring out what the actual event will be like. I've seen the outside of the room it will be, I know it will be a relatively quick affair, but I'm wondering if anyone can give me any details about what happens in the event... I've tried to find examples of what will be said online but it's hard to sort through all the various wedding stuff. Would we be able to say a few words to one another outside the actual script? That's not required by any means, I'm just not sure what'll take place inside that little room with the lighted sign that says "Wedding in progress."

Any firsthand accounts - your own, one you attended - of a courthouse wedding/civil ceremony would be appreciated. Extra points if it happened in DC! Thanks!
posted by atayah to Society & Culture (10 answers total)
I was married in a civil ceremony in Michigan, so YMMV. Once we were in with the person, there was a short conversation about how we wanted to do the ceremony. We were asked if we wanted to exchange rings, and we didn't. We told the person we wanted the most simple thing possible, so it was basically one sentence about "I take you, love, blah blah" that we each repeated. But I got the strong impression that they would have been happy to work with us had we wanted to add anything or get a bit fancier.

Congratulations! We loved our wedding, as low-key as it was. I wish you and your partner every happiness.
posted by not that girl at 11:00 AM on March 22, 2010

I don't have any particular information. You might consider MeFiMailing Mr.MoonPie, who has been marrying people for the past couple of weeks (not in the civil ceremonies). He may have some specifics, or might be able to point you in the right direction.
posted by OmieWise at 11:01 AM on March 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

I was married in a civil ceremony almost exactly 10 years ago. We had no witnesses (the clerk ended up being our witness). Basically, we stood in front of a lovely wooden desk at the county clerk's office - she said some things about love and marriage and then, she said, "I now pronounce you husband and wife, and best friends for life". We kissed, thanked her profusely and then left the room and the next couple went in. It was perfectly low key for us.
posted by Sophie1 at 11:18 AM on March 22, 2010

Yeah I can't imagine that same sex civil unions (I'm assuming here, apologies if I'm wrong) are going to be any different from other civil unions. The judge just asked us what type of ceremony we'd like and gave us a few options (we picked passages for him to read etc.). It was lovely.
posted by Kimberly at 11:34 AM on March 22, 2010

We had a city hall ceremony almost 9 years ago (April 12th.) When we booked the chapel, we were given the option of having a few words said, or no words and just signing the paperwork. In case we wanted words said, we were given samples of blurbs that included the mention of God, or not. Or we could provide our own words. So I wrote up some brief vows that ended with us just having to say "I do," and included the exchange of rings. It was all quite quick and painless and lovely. Congratulations!
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 12:07 PM on March 22, 2010

We made an appointment with a county judge for a Saturday morning ceremony. Came the day, and went to the courthouse, only to find his chambers door locked at the appointed hour, and nobody about. We wondered around a bit, and finally found an old janitor, running a floor polisher on the floor above the judge's chambers. We asked him how we might proceed.

"Well," he said. "You could wait awhile, for Judge X, but that doesn't mean he'll be here later. You said you had an appointment? Well. Weekends, he sometimes lets those slip over to the Family Sessions judge that's sitting. So, if you want to do that, you go down to the first floor, and in the East Wing, you find the Family Sessions courtroom, and go in, and sit down in back. When the docket is finished for the day, the clerk will ask whether anyone else has business before the court, and you just go up, and tell them what you want."

So, we went downstairs and found the courtroom, and sat down in the back, quietly. And after watching about 90 minutes of human theater from a Friday night in Davidson County, TN, including various cases of domestic violence, runaways bound over to court for processing by the police, a couple of foster care cases where kids had run away, etc., the clerk did call, finally, for any new business to come before the court, and we did, finally, go up to the judge, and explain that we wanted to get married. He shook his head, and got the clerk to hand him up a worn book of civil procedure, and asked for our license, signed it, and read us the right questions, and listened to our answers with a grave face, and pronounced us man and wife, and shook his head, and finished by shaking his head again, and saying "Good luck to you both."
posted by paulsc at 12:36 PM on March 22, 2010

I don't know much about DC civil ceremonies, really, except that there's a huge backlog right now due to the recent legalizing of same-sex marriages. I do know about them across the river in Arlington, VA, since that's where the MrsMoonPie and I got hitched a few years ago. There, you apply for and get the license on the spot, and can then choose a name off a list of officiants and just go across the street to an office. Ours had a little more planning, but, basically, we showed up, the officiant (a lawyer, I think) asked us a few questions along the lines of what not_that_girl described, said a short bit, and that was that.

I would be happy to officiate, by the way. I'm doing all this pro bono, for the cause, volunteer, all that. Even if you've already filed the application, you can change things right up until you pick up the license. Lemme know if you want to go that route. It'd be a helluva story for the grandkids.
posted by MrMoonPie at 1:15 PM on March 22, 2010

Oh, and here's the background on my recent marrying activities.
posted by MrMoonPie at 1:16 PM on March 22, 2010

I've never actually seen the room where wedding ceremonies are performed in the DC Superior Courthouse, but I know people who attended one such wedding and they said it was set up very nicely. I realize that is vague, but they were pleasantly surprised (I seem to vaguely remember talk of some sort of arch thing that the couple stood under). The judge talked to them about how they met and things, it was all very friendly.

I'm guessing you will be able to say a few words outside of the script. Also, at least back then, which was a few years ago, you could request a specific judge. Just call the courthouse and ask. I'm sure it will be one of the more fun phone calls the clerk gets all day. Courthouses can be sort of depressing, so a wedding is a nice change of pace.
posted by whoaali at 2:51 PM on March 22, 2010

My wife and I had a civil ceremony in San Diego about a year and a half ago. Don't blink or you'll miss it, I hate to say. You each repeat the vows and it's over that quickly. Soak it up and congrats!
posted by CwgrlUp at 4:47 PM on March 22, 2010

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