GREENFIELD — Joe Munden and Amber Kincer’s Valentine’s Day wedding ceremony was just the way they wanted it: small, intimate and at Greenfield City Hall.
The Greenfield couple’s special day was a rare occasion, as there’s a shrinking trend in civil ceremonies at Hancock County government buildings.
Though love was in the air Friday, those wanting a civil ceremony in Hancock County are having a harder time finding someone to marry them, making inexpensive, spur-of-the-moment courthouse weddings difficult to finagle.
State law allows judges, county clerks, city clerk-treasurers and mayors to perform marriage ceremonies, alongside ministers. But fewer elected officials are giving their time for love-struck couples, saying their schedules are just too busy to accommodate ceremonies on the fly.
On a snowy Friday afternoon, Munden and Kincer were excited to tie the knot in front of their children and close friends. Munden, a Greenfield police officer, said the couple wanted Mayor Chuck Fewell to perform the ceremony at city hall because they both knew him and wanted something simple.
The couple was grateful to have someone perform the ceremony, having never wanted to go all out with pricey invitations and an extensive guest list.
“Really, it’s more sentimental,” Kincer said.
But fewer county residents are offered the opportunity anymore for such an occasion: a short and sweet ceremony at city hall or the county courthouse is almost becoming a thing of the past.
Law states certain elected officials “may” perform marriage ceremonies, but does not require them to. While officials will still occasionally perform a marriage for a friend or relative, it’s been years since Hancock County judges or mayors have offered up the free service to walk-ins, and local clerks have gradually dropped off too.
When county Clerk Marcia Moore cut back her wedding services at the courthouse to only one day a week in 2012, couples headed across the street to city hall, where Greenfield Clerk-Treasurer Larry Breese became swamped with the number of wedding requests.
He decided to call it quits in late 2012, and Moore followed suit in early 2013.
“People were going to the county clerk’s office, getting a marriage license and then walking across the street to get married,” Breese said. “No appointment, just showing up to say, ‘We decided to get married today, we got our marriage license; can you perform the wedding?’ There were days where I was performing three or four weddings a day; that was all I was getting done.”
Still, the decision was bittersweet. Breese said he enjoyed meeting couples over the years in hundreds of civil ceremonies. But entering his final term of office, he decided, it was time to slow down. He had become overwhelmed with impulsive couples wanting him to drop everything in the middle of his working day to accommodate their schedule.
Moore said the service became too much for her, too.
“Because I am a working clerk, it had gotten to the point where trying to do weddings sporadically interrupted being able to be a working clerk and do my job,” Moore said. “Then, when we did try to schedule them, unfortunately some people didn’t want to wait.”
Moore said by early last year, there were just too few elected officials offering the service that she decided to stop, too.
“We really did an effort to try to accommodate (them) but even that didn’t work out,” she said.
But there is hope for those eager to get hitched. Staff at the courthouse has compiled a list of local residents and retired ministers who can perform civil ceremonies. Whenever a couple comes in for a courthouse wedding, they’re given the list of local resources.
In fact, the staff of the county election office decided to get ordained themselves last year after seeing the demand for the service. The office is where people get their marriage licenses anyway, so Janice Jones and Robin Spille took an online course authorizing them to perform marriages. They perform ceremonies after working hours at a nominal fee – exactly what most couples are looking for.
“Since we’re here on the front line, we see the need,” Spille said. “Seventy percent of the people who come in would like to do their wedding that way; they’d like to save their money and spend it on a home or honeymoon. They don’t want to do anything expensive. We saw a huge need for it.”
Generally the pair charges $50 for a ceremony, but they’ll take each case individually and may even perform a ceremony for free for a cash-strapped couple. Their ceremonies are not religious, Spille added, which is also important to some.
They’ll give the ceremony in public places like the courthouse plaza or local parks; or even churches or homes if the couple prefers. Spille said she loves the part-time gig, where she’s always discovering a true-life love story.
Sometimes, the best ones, Spille said, are older couples who are reuniting. There was a couple last year who were remarried in the Hancock County Veterans Park in honor of their son who died. And there was the couple who was determined to get married on the same frigid January day as their first ceremony; the bride brought pictures of themselves from the first wedding to reminisce.
“You enjoy being a part of that; it’s a happy occasion,” Spille said.
Wearing a heart-stamped tie Friday, Fewell said he was pleased to perform the ceremony for the new Mr. and Mrs. Munden. Only in his second month as mayor, this was the first time Fewell performed a ceremony.
And while Fewell plans to only officiate for city employees and relatives because he doesn’t want to become overloaded with requests from the public, the mayor couldn’t help but feel overjoyed for the happy couple.
“What better thing can you do on Valentine’s Day than put two people together? And they’ll be together the rest of their lives,” he said.