Nothing like presenting the wrong marriage license to throw a curve ball at your officiant. That’s what happened to me. I had driven from my Portland, OR home over the bridge into Vancouver, WA for my first wedding of the day. Carefully following Mapquest’s directions—I’m still behind the times and do not own a GPS—I arrived at the couple’s home where the wedding was to take place. The young groom met me in the entryway, dressed in a cream colored tux and looking like a million bucks! A curved staircase led up to the bedroom wing of the house where the bride was still getting ready. With a thick Russian accent the groom introduced me to his mother; who appeared not to know much English at all. A cheerful cloud of brightly colored balloons floated near the ceiling in the dining area, where a cake and spread of delectable food was laid out. In the kitchen other dishes still simmered, and the aroma filled the house. The celebration had clearly been well planned. Except for one thing. When I asked to see the Marriage License, it was from the wrong state: Oregon. Oops.
I explained the legalities: a wedding must take place in the state in which the license is issued. Period. For their Vancouver wedding, they would need to get a license from any County in Washington State—Clark County being the nearest one. Then there’s a three-day waiting period before it can be used. And since this was a Saturday, they would have to wait until Monday during regular business hours for the County marriage office to reopen. Once they got the right license, the first day they could have a legal wedding here would be 3 days later, on the following Thursday. The mother became upset and actually laced her hands together in a prayer-like pose, begging me, “Please.” That was one English word she knew. Guests were coming to fill the house very soon and we were miles from the Oregon border. It was a crisis that could have become a disaster!
Time was ticking and I had another couple of weddings still to perform that day, elsewhere. Fortunately for this couple, I also have a small chapel in Oregon. I told the groom that we could have them go ahead and say their vows before their family and friends here in their home, now. But I would explain to the guests that to make it legal, the couple and two witnesses would have to meet me in Oregon later that day with their Oregon Marriage license in hand. That would be their legal wedding; this one would be a symbolic one. Fortunately, I had an opening at 6 p.m. that day in my chapel. They agreed. To his mother’s great relief they could still share a wedding celebration and feast with their guests, as planned.
The guests all arrived, and the bride finally made her grand entrance down that curved stairway, dressed in a lacy white gown with a long, sweeping train. I explained the plan to the guests, also telling them how much this couple wanted to make their promises in front of their family and friends. And so they did. I’m not sure whether the guests fully understood English, either, but the bride and groom knew and that was the most important thing. The couple did follow through that evening, meeting me at my chapel, still dressed in their wedding clothes. The bride’s train practically took up the entire chapel.
The couple then said “I do” a second time that day in the presence of the two witnesses they brought with them. We signed the proper documents on the proper lines, in the proper State. When all was said and done, I wished them a happy life, and they left hand in hand, officially and legally married. Crisis and disaster averted!
I'm the founding minister of Wedded Your Way. I love helping people tie the knot!