Our Quicky Courthouse Wedding

In Marriage Waiting Room, Pre-Ceremony
In Marriage Waiting Room, Pre-Ceremony

Us with Judge McGuire
Us with Judge McGuire
The Kiss
The Kiss
Celebratory wedding lunch at Howell and Hood
Celebratory wedding lunch at Howell and Hood

You may not have known this, but up until July 1st, 2014, Jon and I were not legally married. Our ceremony in Mexico was strictly symbolic due to the fact that we didn’t want to pay the resort fee to make it official; nor did we want a Mexican marriage certificate. Instead, we gave Jim and Sandi the task of finding out how we could make it legal and official when we came back to the United States for our winter/summer break. (I still have trouble referring to July as winter…) So, the day after we touched down in Chicago we were off to the Cook County courthouse in Arlington Heights to pick up our marriage certificate. First of all, I’m not sure why a marriage certificate costs only 60 dollars and requires a few brief details about your life: name of mother, name of father, place of birth of each, and BOOM: you can get married. Whereas getting divorced usually requires lawyers, hassle, and a great deal of pain and money shelled out on either side. They should really make the first process a bit more difficult and then maybe the second process wouldn’t occur so much… Anyway, after calling my father to ensure the information I was giving was accurate, we were rewarded with a marriage certificate and told that in Illinois you need to wait at least one day between getting the certificate and legalizing the marriage.
So, the next day Jon and I dressed casually in white and headed into Chicago with Jim and Sandi in order to make it official in front of an illustrious Cook County judge. Now, I really had no idea what to expect from a courthouse wedding. I had seen a J-Lo rom com that made it look hassle-free and even a bit romantic: large windows letting in heavenly sunshine, wooden benches for your witnesses, there to appreciate the solemn vows, brides dressed in simple white dresses, a judge in a black gown smiling knowingly at the couple. For anyone else planning on getting married in front of a judge, I hate to shatter your illusions, but I want to tell it realistically so you know exactly what you’re getting into. For if you envisioned any romance in your quicky courthouse ceremony, think again!
As we walked down the stately streets of downtown Chicago, we encountered the courthouse directly across from the Daley Center. The building itself was absolutely beautiful: it had a grey, classical exterior and when we stepped inside we were awed by the long corridor filled with American flags and beautiful marble pillars holding up the domed roof. It seemed more like the interior of a gothic cathedral than the sterile federal building in Arlington Heights where we had obtained our certificate. My hopes for the romantic courthouse ceremony continued to build. We wandered around the impressive halls for a bit, looking for the matrimony courts and could not find them. We stopped in the grand entranceway to enquire about directions and received our first indication that the ceremony was going to be more like a trip to the DMV than to the J-Lo courthouse in my imagination. The woman at the information desk was engaged in conversation with her friend and after waiting about a minute, we interrupted her in order to ask for directions to the marriage courts. Her response was brief, irritated, and rather unfriendly… not unlike most customary service that I have grown accustomed to after three years in Chile. I could tell the information dispenser was not pleased we had broken up her important conversation to ask for information. So, back we went through the fancy corridor out to the side doors, where we spied a white sign pointing down an unceremonious set up stairs leading down to the basement where apparently the matrimony courts were located.
The corridor in the basement was dark and drab. There were absolutely no majestic windows in sight. We found the marriage courts and stepped inside to what seemed more like a dreary dentist’s waiting room than the room where happy, joyous couples come to become husband and wife. (Or husband and husband, or wife and wife, as it seemed most of the other couples in the room were waiting to do.) I was then informed that Illinois had recently passed a law making gay marriage legal, so that made a lot of sense to me. We strode up to the window where we handed over our marriage certificate and were told to take a seat after reading a sign posted in the window which said, “Although we know you are very excited about your big day, please keep the noise to a minimum so as not to interrupt the ceremony inside.” Well, I’m pretty sure they didn’t need to post that sign, because no one in that waiting room needed to be told to keep their excitement to a minimum. In fact, if someone had entered that room there is no way they could have known that people were not about to get a mouth full of teeth pulled, but were instead about to be joined in civil union. Jon and I were the only ones in white, and absolutely no one seemed dressed for matrimony. I had heard that American culture was getting more and more casual by the day, but this was ridiculous. One of the female couples had matching Tshirts of what looked to be Calvin peeing on something. One of the bride’s witnesses were wearing the Tshirt in hot pink and the other bride’s family was wearing the Tshirt in neon orange. In addition to said couple, there were two older men carrying briefcases, apparently there to tie the knot on their lunch break. To our right, were also seated two young men trembling with nervousness in plaid shirts, khakis and buzz cuts, with, sadly, no witnesses to accompany them. (They apparently are not privy to my seven year or above third rule regarding a successful marriage…) There was also a rather harried looking mother in jean shorts carrying a small bouquet of flowers with her fiancé and two small children in tow. While we waited for our turn to make a life-long commitment in front of an elected government official, we took some pictures to commemorate the event and tried to pretend as though there wasn’t a giant rust stain on the opposing wall where apparently water had been leaking down into the courthouse basement.
We only had to wait about 20 minutes for the four other couples in front of us to have their ceremonies when we were ushered into the back rooms. An extremely tall and goofy looking judge greeted us and immediately commented on Jon’s height and asked whether he played basketball. As the four of us traipsed into our ceremony room, Jim (Jon’s dad) and Judge McGuire discussed Wisconsin basketball camps that they had both attended. Apparently the judge also knew someone who played at Quincy University, where Jon went to school, so they chatted about that for awhile. In the humorous conversation, Judge McGuire also let it be known that in his lengthy basketball career he played against some NBA stars such as Larry Bird and Michael Jordan. Not a second later, he later proudly proclaimed that his only stint in professional basketball occurred in Iceland. (Do they even have a basketball league there?)
After much laughter, I wondered when the ceremony would be starting. There were no official looking wooden benches, no windows, and nothing on the walls in the tiny, cramped cubicle that was now filled with four people averaging about 6 foot 5 in height, and one shrimpy bride in the corner. It was a pretty comical scenario, as was the ceremony itself. Eventually, the judge began his marriage speal, which he had apparently forgotten most of the words to, because he stumbled through it as though it were his first time.
When he asked Jon if he took me to be his wife, Jon answered, “Yeah.” Judge McGuire replied that Jon would need to at least say “Yes”. He then jokingly followed that up with, “Do you, Elizabeth, take this knucklehead to be your lawfully wedded wife?” I had no choice but to laugh and reply in agreement. Then we were told to face each other and place rings on each other’s fingers. We answered that we already were wearing our rings, which seemed to fluster the judge quite a bit because he stammered out something about a ring being a circle of life, and then hurried up to the magical kiss between husband and wife. After we sealed the deal, the other marriage judge in Cook County, a tiny woman with a large, curly hairdo, appeared in the doorway and declared that we were having too much fun and then proceeded to make fun of Judge McGuire. We then learned that the judge himself had, in his own words, “dodged a bullet” and had never been married. Apparently our marriage judge does not hold such a high opinion of the institution… If that had been my only wedding ceremony, to tell the truth, I would have been very disappointed. But, as my newly official father in law pointed out, at least I would remember that ceremony forever. So off we went, to another official building to get certified copies of the certificate and to celebrate being husband and wife with a fabulous day in the city. All kidding aside, it was an unforgettable wedding day! (If anyone has any equally ridiculous courthouse ceremony stories to share, I’d be happy to hear them:-))


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