If the romance isn't dampened by the metal detectors at the front entrance, the hard plastic seats in the waiting room or the knowledge that the jail is right overhead, then getting married at the magistrate's office may be a tribute to the power of love.
It's certainly a tribute to the prevalence of love. Couples troop daily to the office inside the Cumberland County Detention Center to wait their turns among people filing criminal complaints and legal petitions, for a few minutes with a magistrate who can legally marry them.
For some couples, it's a no-nonsense, unsentimental legal necessity, one that helps them dodge pricey weddings and bridezilla tendencies.
But for others, the short-lived ceremony comes with plenty of hearts and flowers -- even if just in the faces and feelings of the bride and groom.
Connie Peele, who has been a magistrate for eight years, said some people laugh during their ceremony, and some cry. Some are businesslike. And some are clearly, touchingly in love, like one couple she remembers who sang to each other.
"He sang to her, and she cried, and she sang to him, and he cried. And I cried," said Peele, smiling. "I often wonder how they're doing."
Today on Valentine's Day, you might be one of those couples considering getting hitched. What better day than one that celebrates love?
It's one of the busiest days of the year at the magistrate's office. So, if you think you're taking the plunge today, or another day, read on. We'll tell you what you need to know about tying the knot.
Where you need to go: The Cumberland County Magistrate's Office is inside the Cumberland County Detention Center at 204 Gillespie St. Call 677-5547 or go to www.aoc.state.nc.us/ district12/General Information/Marriage.htm for complete details.
What you must bring, besides each other: Your marriage license. A ceremony fee of $20. Two witnesses. And maybe your sense of humor and some patience, along with your love. Yes, above all, please don't forget the love.
Marriage licenses are issued weekdays during business hours by the Cumberland County Register of Deeds, which is inside the County courthouse at 117 Dick St., around the corner from the Detention Center.
Be aware: The license costs $60, and you'll both need to show acceptable IDs and acceptable proof of your Social Security numbers.
You'll need at least two people to witness your wedding, other than the magistrate, yourself and your future spouse. While there are often people around the magistrate's office whom you can ask to perform this function, you can't count on that -- or, sometimes, on them. If your witnesses leave before the ceremony, it won't be performed. Not only that, you'll have to get -- and pay for -- a new marriage license.
What you can bring, besides the necessities: Most people entering the jail building are forbidden from bringing in cameras. The rule is enforced by armed guards who inspect anything that doesn't go through the metal detector at the door. But there's an exception for people who are headed for the magistrate's office with a marriage license in hand.
So bring a camera, if you want.
You can bring a bouquet.
And you can bring family and friends. Just know that the waiting room is small, and you may have to share the space and its nine seats with other people who have their own business with the magistrate. Everyone gets served in turn, so you may have to wait. And wait.
What you should wear: What do you want to wear? A suit? A long, white dress? OK. Jeans? That's OK, too. The magistrates have seen all manner of wedding wardrobes. It's up to you.
When you can go: When do you want to go? Like Waffle Houses and Las Vegas, the magistrate's office operates 24/7. If you hadn't thought about getting married at 3 a.m. before, maybe now's the time. Or not, since there's no guarantee the magistrate's office will be slow in the middle of the night -- and you may not be crazy about who comes out then. No appointments are required.
What the ceremony will be like: If things are hopping at the office or if you don't care, the magistrate may marry you right in the tiny gray waiting room, and zip, you'll be done.
Otherwise, though, marriages are performed in a small adjacent courtroom. If the magistrate has time, he or she will go into a back room and don a black robe originally worn by Peele's son when he graduated from high school.
The ceremony will be brief -- a couple of minutes of words that are required, plus a few, like "you may kiss the bride," that just seem like they are.
But if things are slow, you won't have to hustle out to make room for others.
Anything else? While you're downtown, go celebrate at one of the nearby restaurants. There are a range of restaurants with plenty of romantic ambiance, or you could just grab a beer and watch a game. Remember, it's your day. After all, many would argue it's not about the wedding, it's about the marriage, right?
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