A civil ceremony of love


The bride -- one of them, at least -- wore a scoop-necked, full-skirted wedding gown, a pearl tiara and dainty glass slippers. And, over everything, a T-shirt with red gothic lettering that spelled the word trouble.

She was Nancy F. Fischer, a 23-year-old from Dundalk. She stood in the crowded Baltimore County courthouse hallway as her betrothed, a 25-year-old volunteer firefighter from Dundalk named Jimmy E. Dennison, paid $25 for the ceremony and put their names on a list. She soon got rid of the T-shirt -- to look more the part, she said -- and waited.

She was far from the only bride-in-waiting.

By 10:30 a.m. yesterday, dozens of brides and grooms had signed up for a civil ceremony at the Baltimore County Circuit Court. The 13 deputy clerks who had been deployed for marriage duty were working three or four eight-minute ceremonies at once.

"We're doing them in so many locations so we can get them in and out," said Shirley A. Wilhelm, the manager of the non-judicial section of the clerk's office.

But people kept coming off the second-floor elevators, ready to tie their Valentine's Day knot.

"It's a day of love," said Robert P. Duckworth, clerk of the Anne Arundel County Court, who reported a similar scene in Annapolis. "And everybody's finding marital bliss at the courthouse."

As they do every Valentine's Day, hundreds of Maryland couples went for quick weddings yesterday. About 40 marriages were conducted in the Anne Arundel County Circuit Courthouse -- Duckworth gave a rose to the Valentine's Day couples as well as his self-written tip sheet for a healthy marriage. About 70 couples were married at the city courthouse, 60 more in Baltimore County Circuit Court.

"It's cupids and the hearts," said Karen Z. Buck, publisher of The Perfect Wedding Guide, a Maryland-based publication about wedding and honeymoon services, explaining the urge to get married on Valentine's Day. "You also hear from the guy's perspective that it's easy enough to remember the anniversary."

Vinnette A. McLellan, 44, acknowledged there was a unique romance to Feb. 14.

"It would be a special date any day we decided to do it, but I thought Valentine's Day would be extra special," she said, standing in a Baltimore County courthouse hallway.

"Yeah, she pulled a gun out and dragged me in here," said Anthony R. Peele, her 37-year-old husband-to-be, whose smile helped persuade McLellan to call him when he left her his number two years ago at Nick's Place on Liberty Road.

She gave him a look as their friends, all wearing matching red rose boutonnieres, laughed.

The couples getting married yesterday were a mix of different ages, races and marital backgrounds. They picked the courthouse as their "big day" spot for as many different reasons as they had stories: They wanted something small, they were keeping the vows secret from friends or family, they were going to have a bigger ceremony later.

Holly L. Davis decided only recently that Valentine's Day was the date she wanted to finally marry Andrew Miller. The two 30-year-olds have been engaged 11 years.

"We've been procrastinating," Miller said, sitting outside the Baltimore County Circuit Court's wedding room.

They were making the move, but they didn't want a big production.

So yesterday, five family members watched as Davis, in her mother's wedding gown, tried to keep from crying as Miller slipped his grandmother's ring onto her finger.

"We finally did it!" she said, wrapping her arms around his neck. Their 10-year-old son, Joshua, stood next to them.

The Baltimore County courthouse wedding chapel is a small square room with a collection of potted plants, a podium and a little bench for onlookers. A few garlands hang in upside-down U shapes on the wall.

Fischer and Dennison, the Dundalk couple, made it into that chapel around 11 a.m. Fischer's little brother, dressed in a Metallica T-shirt for the occasion, held a ring. Dennison took off his Fire Department of New York cap.

Being married "just feels different," Dennison said after the quick ceremony. And, judging from his smile, apparently in a good way.

Soon afterward, Mary Oladeinde's family and friends--some dressed in traditional Nigeria garments--squeezed into the room to watch her marry 26-year-old Segun Taiwo.

Oladeinde, 25, grew up in the same Nigerian city as Taiwo. They started dating in 1995, the year before Oladeinde moved to the United States for college.

For the next seven years, the two kept their trans-Atlantic relationship strong. And three months ago, Taiwo joined Oladeinde in Baltimore's Cedonia neighborhood.

"I had to come and be with her," he said. "I missed her."

The couple plans to have a big wedding in Nigeria next year and just wanted three or four people at the courthouse for their American union.

But Oladeinde's parents also live in Baltimore, and word got around the local Nigerian community.

"It's too big," Oladeinde exclaimed, looking at the group that was to go into the small wedding room.

Patrick and Barbara Travers, 50 and 48, were on the other end of the spectrum. It was only the two of them and their 17-year-old daughter, Sarah, in the wedding room with the deputy clerk.

Yesterday wasn't the first time the Arbutus couple had gotten married -- to each other. They wed in the Anne Arundel Circuit Court in 1985 and were divorced in 1994.

"We just love each other," Barbara Travers said. "We're different people now. We're older, more respectful. We want to spend the rest of our lives together."

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