Love Notes: The court of love
In marriage court at Cook County Building, the verdict is 'I do'
Yuridia Zavaleta, 27, left, and Victor Guzman, 29, after exchanging vows at Marriage Court. (Alex Garcia, Chicago Tribune / April 6, 2012)
There's even — how's this for a bad omen? — a cracked mirror hanging on the scuffed lemon-yellow wall.
But the couples sitting in the rows of serviceable chairs seem utterly oblivious to their surroundings.
If you want a civil wedding ceremony in Chicago, you'll wind up here.
In fact, it's not City Hall but Marriage and Civil Union Court in the basement of the Cook County Building.
And for a $10 court fee, you can get married in well under five minutes by a judge like Daniel Gallagher, who announces to the waiting couples, "This is a fun day for me."
"There's an intro. There's the vows. There's the ring, and then you're out the door," he explains. "It's OK if you cry. I won't tell anybody. And you can look at each other. You don't have to look at me."
There is nervous laughter from the men and women who represent a cross section of our urban landscape. All ages, races and dress, from gowns worthy of a formal church wedding to bluejeans and gym shoes.
There are same-sex couples — Lois and Denise, D'Andre and Brandon — and some people boasting that the ink on their divorce decree was barely dry before they showed up here to embody that old adage about remarriage: the triumph of hope over experience.
But many of the couples are first-timers filled with the joy of the important commitment.
"You hear the man talking, 'I don't care how cold it is outside. Loving you, I'm warm,'" says Terrence Camodeca, 46, a Cook County Sheriff's deputy whose duties include crowd control on Saturday mornings, when couples often are lined up out the door, down the hall and into an overflow lobby.
"I can see the happiness," says Camodeca, who, incidentally, has never been married.
And, yes, the happiness is visible. On the faces of Archie ("D'Andre") Harris, 23, and Brandon Anderson, 21, who proudly show off their blingy wedding rings as they wait for Judge Gallagher to call their names.
Or Yuridia Zavaleta, 27, and Victor Guzman, who announces, "Today is my birthday." The couple decided to celebrate Guzman's 34th birthday by getting married, with Yuridia's two youngsters, Lorena, 5 and Zebastian, 6, as witnesses.
The couple met at a suburban factory where they both packed lettuce. Victor noticed that Yuridia always ate lunch alone so "little by little, we started a friendship." She had a car and he didn't, so soon she was giving him a ride home.
"So one time I told her, 'Close your eyes. I'm going to give you something.' What I gave her was a kiss," he says.
Ally Gutierrez, 21, and Peter Rosa, 21, posed in their wedding finery as her grandfather, Lorenzo Ramirez, took pre-wedding photos while the couple waited their turn. She clutched a bouquet of lilies and white roses as she told their love story. Ally and Peter had been friends in high school, just good friends.
But one day, well after they had graduated, they were visiting a mutual friend when Peter spoke up. "He told me he wanted to tell me something," she says. "But he made me guess. He ended up telling me how he felt." She came to feel the same way, which is why the couple, along with her parents, three grandparents and three brothers, his parents, his brother and an aunt and cousin crowded into the tiny makeshift courtroom to exchange vows.
Pilar Zavaleta (no relation to Yuridia), 31, met Juan Aguayo, 27, because they had the same music teacher. Pilar was taking guitar; Juan was studying piano.
Just like Yuridia and Victor, they got together after one (Juan) offered the other (Pilar) a ride home. "Right away, the first minute," Juan says he knew English teacher Pilar would be his wife. She says she felt the same instant bond. "It was weird. I wasn't even looking for a relationship," she said. "I'm 31 and I'm single. He came along. I knew it was him."
And once they started dating, they stopped taking music lessons. Says Juan: "We preferred spending time together."