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Today, on Sex and the City Paper Day, my colleagues are covering such lascivious themes as prostitutes, domestic violence, and abortion protesters. Not me—-whether due to latent Catholic guilt or other reasons—-I am covering love at its pure, untrammeled best: courthouse weddings.
If you chose to wed this morning at the H. Carl Moutrie I District of Columbia Courthouse, you would have entered on Indiana Avenue NW, past the seemingly interminable entrance renovation. You would have risen four floors through the atrium on escalators, passing the packed courtroom where a judge would be sentencing accused child murderer Banita Jacks. You would step off the escalator and wend through hallways, past the domestic violence branch, past a family court proceeding. And you would walk into the marriage bureau office, through a perfectly normal waiting room, under a flowered arch, and into the wedding chamber. There, underneath the seal of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, and another flowered arch, you would be wed by the lovely Toni F. Gore, branch chief of the family court division.
“Please approach the arch!” she’ll tell you when the time comes.
Gore has been doing weddings here for three years. She estimates she’s done at least 300 of them. And she doesn’t do matrimony every day—-just Wednesdays; her deputies handle the other days. You have to call ahead to schedule a half-hour slot, and today, she’ll be doing four.
If you ask about her job, she’ll tell you: “I do two happy things: marriages and adoptions.” But Gore spends the rest of her work week doing other stuff—-making sure courtrooms are staffed, reviewing court records, and other managerial tasks. And one other thing: “I don’t tell them I do divorces. They don’t need to hear that.”
She doesn’t have to do weddings—-when she was promoted to branch chief, she insisted on still doing a few a week. Gore is very good at making a courthouse wedding—-what many couples expect to be a prosaic thing—-into something worth remembering. It starts with the room, which is clean, quiet, and well-appointed. And it has to be reserved; there’s no walk-ins. “It’s not a cattle call,” Gore says. “It’s their special day.”
Her favorite wedding, she’ll tell you, happened this Valentine’s Day—-the first time the marriage bureau had been open on a Saturday. She married a couple that had been living together for more than 20 years. They had several children, some of them teenagers.
“At the end of the ceremony, the [teenage] son said, ‘Mom, now we’ve got the same name.’ And they hugged. Her son was so happy. They kept hugging.”