The District of Columbia’s only official government wedding chapel is located in Room 4485 on the fourth floor of the H.Carl Moultrie Courthouse at 500 Indiana Ave. NW, D.C. Superior Court. To get there, after you’re screened by court security, you take three flights of escalators up, veer left at the Domestic Violence Center, make a sharp right at the sign for the Counsel for Child Abuse and Neglect, and then just follow the signs to the Marriage Bureau. Inside, there’s a comfortable lobby with a single speaker tuned to a classic R&B station and a magazine rack stocked with back issues of Smithsonian magazine and Budget Living. One of several friendly clerks will guide you through the requisite paperwork and then point you to a door beneath an arched metal arbor covered with bright fake flowers. Inside the marriage-ceremony room, Fillmore Lucas Jr., deputy director of the family-court clerk’s office, is one of two officials who preside over weddings, joining husbands and wives on the half-hour most Mondays and Wednesdays.

“It’s a part of [my job] that I greatly enjoy,” Lucas says. “Although I don’t work directly with cases, at the Family Court, I’m adjacent to a lot of trauma—not happy events.”

After entering through a side door, Lucas checks the marriage certificate of the waiting couple for misspellings and asks for help pronouncing unusual names. If there’s a ring bearer, there’s usually a bit of fumbling getting the child ready. Lucas then recites the words of the District of Columbia’s marriage-ceremony book. “The vows are standard, except of course there’s no reference to a deity,” he says. “We refer to the fact that this is a civil wedding, that this is a contract.” Translators are usually available with advance notice.

As a means of staging a ceremony that might otherwise cost tens of thousands of dollars and require months of planning, a civil wedding is very manageable. On the morning of Monday, June 27, Juan McGhee and Joan Wright come to the courthouse alone and are married by Filmore Lucas Jr. “We’ve had some opposition,” Juan says. “Actually, we were supposed to do [a more elaborate wedding] in April, but people wanted to dictate how we did it, and it just fell through. So we figured we’d just come here by ourselves.”

The ceremony itself lasts a little over a quarter of an hour, leaving fewer than 15 minutes for photos before the next couple arrives. Then it’s three escalators back down and into married life.

Adelle Lykes and Hyun Uk Kim

Married June 21, 2005

Prince George’s Country Administration Building

Laura Lykes, Adelle’s mother, was initially worried that her daughter wasn’t ready for marriage: “Eighteen—that’s kind of young. And when the call came, we asked her to pray about [whether she was ready to get married], and she came back two days later and said she was. It’s such a personal thing, we couldn’t tell her to do it.”

“She was nervous. But it’s something she’d looked forward to. It’s something my husband and I had gone through. My husband and I are very happy, so she had an expectation that it would be a good thing. I joined the church in ’75. My husband joined in ’73. Actually, the same person arranged our marriage as arranged her marriage—Reverend Moon.”

The civil ceremony was fun but not ultimately such a big deal, Laura Lykes says, because Adelle and Hyun Uk had been married in the eyes of the Holy Spirit Association for the Unification of World Christianity since December, when separate but concurrent marriage ceremonies in New York and South Korea united them. Each had received a photo of the other a few days earlier. “They had actually not met before he came in May,” Laura Lykes says, “but they were committed to each other.”

They squeezed in the civil ceremony on the same day they left for Korea, where Hyun Uk will fulfill his military-service obligation and Adelle will study Korean culture and language at Sun Moon University as a prelude to attending Princeton next year. “I’m going to go to school for the first half of the year,” Adelle says, “and I’m going to stay with his family.” Although she’s learned some Korean already, “It’s kind of nerve-wracking. But as long as he’s there.”

Angelita Carmelita Tapia and Juan Alberto Perez

Married June 20, 2005

Montgomery Country Circuit Court

Juan Perez and Angelita Tapia met through their jobs at the Costco in Gaithersburg. “We work in different departments,” says Juan Perez. “She’s in the deli, and I’m a meat cutter. We started going out two years ago.” They’ll both be returning to work the next day, but they’re hoping to take a honeymoon down the road. Says Angelita, “I like Miami. I love Miami.”

Daryl Grimmett and Kayanne Fraser

Married June 21, 2005

Prince George’s County Administration Building

When Daryl and Kayanne tried to explain the concept of marriage to their 3-year-old son, Isaah, it didn’t get through. So Daryl’s father came up with a substitute reason for Isaah to come to the courthouse. “His granddaddy told him we were going to see the police,” Kayanne says. “He loves the police, firefighters.”

The couple has been together for five years. “We’d been together for so long it already felt like we were married,” Kayanne says. “We actually wanted to [have a big wedding] before Isaah was born.” That wasn’t and still isn’t possible, she says, so “since we don’t have the money for it, and we love each other enough, we’ll just go to the court and do it and maybe later we’ll have my big wedding. I came over from Jamaica in ’96, when I was 12, and I want to go back home and do it on the beach.”

Daryl also wants to have a more elaborate ceremony in a few years. “It’s important to me, but it’s more of a big deal for Kayanne,” he says. “Most girls have their storybook wedding, and I don’t think the courthouse was hers.”

Asked about a beach wedding in Jamaica, Daryl’s taken a little aback. “That’s news to me. I knew about the second wedding. I didn’t know about it being in Jamaica.” But a moment later, he adds, “You know, Jamaica’s a beautiful place. I’ve never been, but the stories she tells me about the country—we can go down there.”

Andrea Kelly and Robert Boston

Married June 27, 2005

Superior Court of the District of Columbia

Robert and Andrea met as students at the Kendall Model Secondary School for the Deaf, Gallaudet University’s high school. “We met in Minnesota at a track meet,” says Andrea through an interpreter. “We were both athletes. And then he fell in love with me.” But the two were apart for 20 years, during which time Andrea married and divorced.

“Andrea said she didn’t want to put on this big thing,” says her sister Maxine Granstan. “This was her second wedding, and both of our parents are deceased. We no longer have anything to prove—it’s not like there’s a male relative to walk her down the aisle.

“But she checked out the [courthouse] before and said it was really nice. It was really sweet how they did [the ceremony]. They had them sign their vows to each other. They held hands throughout the ceremony, and they slightly changed a couple of the words to make it easier, so they could hold hands and sign the vows.”

“They’re moving into a new house in Gaithersburg,” says Maxine. “That’s the wedding gift they bought for themselves. And they’re going to do a little get-together on Sunday.”

Juan McGhee and Joan Wright

Married June 27, 2005

Superior Court of the District of Columbia

Juan and Joan met in Crystal City 16 years ago. She works for the patent office, and he was a shoe repairman who worked downstairs in the same building. Friends and family were skeptical of the relationship.

“There’s a 20-year age difference,” Juan says. “A lot of people thought we weren’t going to make it because of the age difference. We knew better.”

The two moved in together at the beginning of 1989, and that’s when Juan bought their wedding rings. But the couple didn’t get married then. “We were waiting until we were grounded,” Juan says. “We’re pretty grounded now.”

But that’s not to say the rings spent the last 16 years tucked away in their black velvet box. “These rings, they got some history,” he says. “They got us out of a lot of trouble, putting them in the pawnshop. Paid some bills with them.”

Juan estimates he pawned the two rings about eight times, but he looks a little offended when asked whether he ever thought he might lose them. “We always got them back,” he says. “They were sacred. They’re how we felt about each other.”

Thuy-Tien Pham and Mieheal Van

Married June 27, 2005

Superior Court of the District of Columbia

The couple met when Mieheal went back to Vietnam for Tet, the Vietnamese New Year, in February 2002. “There was matchmaking involved there,” says Mieheal through an interpreter. “It was an introduction. [I’d] already seen her picture.”

The introduction went smoothly, and Mieheal returned to Vietnam several times before Thuy-Tien came to the United States in May 2005. Courting took a while, says Mieheal, “because both sides of the family wanted to find out that it was the right thing, and make sure [I] was a good man. [We] trusted each other, and [we] weren’t afraid of losing each other.”

When Thuy-Tien is asked what she’s going to do now that she’s here, her husband says she’ll likely become a beautician: “She’s very good with nails and hairdressing.” But when the question is repeated, Thuy-Tien gives, according to the interpreter, “a little different answer. She’d like to study English, and then she’ll think about it.

“But right now, the first thing’s first,” the interpreter says. “Got to get the paperwork through.”

Katerina Drakakis and Stelios Kontakiotis

Married June 20, 2005

Montgomery Country Circuit Court

In January 2004, Katerina and Stelios were married on the Greek island of Amorgos. “It’s a small island, but it was pretty much an open wedding—everybody was invited. There were 600 or 700 people there.” Katerina’s and Stelios’ mothers were close friends growing up together on the island; Katerina was born and raised in Washington. She met Stelios after the priest of Saint Sophia, D.C.’s Greek Orthodox cathedral, went to Greece and recruited him to be the church’s professional chanter. “In November of 1999, [Stelios] came to the trial and was offered the position,” Katerina says. “I met him in church at Easter Service in April. A chanter is to help someone meditate….He does that job, and it brings you right back to the liturgy. I heard his voice first, and I fell in love with his voice. And from there, that’s how we figured out there was a connection.”

Because their wedding took place overseas, it was not immediately recognized in the United States. “So we had to do something here—either take our license to the Greek Embassy to be translated or get a civil marriage,” Katerina says.

Katerina and Stelios also had a symbolic reason for repeating their vows. Since their wedding in Greece, Katerina’s brother and his wife have had a daughter whom they’ve named after Katerina’s mother, Rena Drakakis. The baby came to the second wedding in lieu of Rena, who didn’t live to see her daughter marry her childhood friend’s son. “I know that it was my mom here who brought him here to me by way of my priest,” Katerina says. “It’s about the family and connections and coming back to my roots. So it was awesome having [the baby] there, like the grandmother who couldn’t be.”

Haroldt Urib and Radhia Abdul-Latif

Married June 29, 2005

Superior Court of the District of Columbia

Haroldt and Radhia chose a courthouse wedding because of their different backgrounds. He’s a Christian from Namibia, and she’s a Muslim from D.C. “We do look forward to getting the blessings of our religions,” Haroldt says. Though they couldn’t settle on a religious ceremony, the groom is “happy to announce it will be a Christian family.”

“That’s not settled yet,” Radhia says. Both laugh.

The couple met when Haroldt took his son to a hair salon. “She was sitting under this heavy hair dryer and sweating,” he says. “She was fanning herself with a magazine, and that made it seem much easier to talk to her, to walk up and say, ‘Hi, what’s your name?’”CP

Art accompanying story in the printed newspaper is not available in this archive: Photographs by Charles Steck.