Vows short in court


You've heard of the four-minute mile? Yesterday was all about the four-minute wedding.

That was how long it took, from beginning to end, for Thomas Wilkerson and Sharon Lilley to exchange their vows.

Oh, and seal them with a love-struck smooch.

It was Valentine's Day, and the Fulton couple was the first of 20 couples on Howard Clerk of the Circuit Court Margaret D. Rappaport's wedding schedule.

Shortly after 8:30 a.m., the bride and groom stood in the Ellicott City courthouse's cramped 12-by-16-foot marriage room and said their "I do's."

"Congratulations and many, many happy successes," Rappaport said, handing the Wilkersons, employees of the Howard County school system, a Polaroid snapshot and a frame. "And here's your contract."

One down.

Across the Baltimore region, couples flocked to courthouses yesterday - clogging appointment calendars or waiting in line, dressed in wedding finery or just nice duds - for the chance to add extra meaning to Valentine's Day.

They turned the day into a wedding marathon for court clerks, who raced couples through their vows in specially designated marriage rooms or areas - one clerk estimated 3 to 5 minutes each, another 10 minutes - without making the ceremonies feel rushed.

In Baltimore Circuit Court, about 60 couples tied the knot. They lined up in fluffy wedding dresses and fancy suits on the sixth floor of Clarence M. Mitchell Jr. Courthouse and waited patiently to say, "I do." "We have more people than last year," said Circuit Court Clerk Frank M. Conaway, decked out in a suit with a bright red tie. "Maybe September 11th had something to do with it."

Two people in line, Twanette Green, 32, and Latar Bradshaw, 18, tied the knot about 1:30 p.m. "What better gift to have on Valentine's Day?" Green said before the ceremony. Maybe this: Her husband-to-be got a tattoo two weeks ago on the left side of his neck that reads, "My wife Twanette."

In Baltimore County, more than three dozen couples flocked to the circuit courthouse to exchange vows.

In Harford County, the recording and licensing department was on its 16th wedding at 2 p.m. Three couples were waiting by the time the office opened at 8:30 a.m.

In Anne Arundel County, happy couples were met by Clerk of the Circuit Court Robert P. Duckworth, who was decked out in his tux, complete with red bow tie and cummerbund, to do the honors. Duckworth, who handed out roses and candy, had logged 39 weddings by 3:30 p.m.

In Carroll County, though, clerks were surprised. This Valentine's Day, just four weddings were on their calendar.

"I just don't know what happened this year," said Loveric Herman, a Carroll deputy clerk who performs marriage ceremonies.

The reasons for the day's popularity for weddings were the same for most. Some are motivated by the obvious: the romance of connecting marriage with the roses and hearts associated with the holiday of love. And some took a more practical view.

"It's just very romantic - and it would be easy for him to remember our anniversary," Marilyn Commer Knisley, 59, said minutes after marrying Sam Knisley, 64, in Howard Circuit Court. It is the third marriage for each.

In Howard County, couples arrived in limos and with photographers - and alone. They brought scads of family and friends - and no one. They paid $25 fees for the ceremony - on top of the $35 they'd shelled out days before for a license.

Then they gazed into each other's eyes during brief nuptials, some accompanied by taped versions of Felix Mendelssohn's "The Wedding March" (first played at the wedding of the English Princess Royal in 1858), others by silent adoration.

"You know, for your second marriage, people don't make a big to-do," said Wilkerson, 48, who arrived at the courthouse with only Lilley, 43 - no family, no adornments. Yesterday was the second marriage for each. "It's time. We're ready. And the opportunity was here."

The day provided its moments.

In Howard County, minutes before his wedding to 31-year-old Pamela Kramer, Kevin Cusic, 35, was looking a little pale.

"I think I'm going to be sick," the Arbutus man said.

Jean Luc-Marie St. Louis and his intended, Marie Marthe Johnson, arrived for their 9:15 a.m. wedding appointment - but forgot to bring money to pay the fee.

The couple raced to the bank and came back for vows two hours later only to have St. Louis, 38, jump the gun on the smooching part.

"No, no, no. Not so fast," Rappaport interrupted jokingly before completing the ceremony, stopping the embarrassed groom. "You're too anxious."

The bride and groom, natives of Haiti, decided to use yesterday to make things official and are planning a big blow-out affair in September.

St. Louis moved from Boston to Columbia over the weekend to be with his bride, and the couple wanted marriage and living together to coincide. Plus, the new Mrs. St. Louis, 46, has always loved Valentine's Day.

"I think Cupid hit me with a machete this time," she said.

Sun staff writer Allison Klein contributed to this article.

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