by Barbara Jay
My favorite (actually, only) weddings are the smallest possible: only the couple and me, the officiant. In my years as a Justice of the Peace, I’ve only officiated at two weddings but I’ve married three couples. Yes, one of the weddings was a double ceremony. (And one other thing made this event unusual: they were all women.) That wedding took place at the home of one of the couples. The four women had created a moving ceremony in which the couples alternated saying their vows. Nearby, a table was beautifully set for four with china, crystal and candles. Following the ceremony and a champagne toast, I left them to enjoy alone their first evening as wedded couples.
At my other tiny wedding, there were no invited guests but a crowd of strangers gathered to watch. People enjoying a bright winter day at the beach took notice when, despite the cold, one of the three odd people out on the jetty removed her coat and stood stoically and radiantly in a short white dress. We three found our footing on the rocks, I opened the ceremony, and the couple joined hands. They listened intently to my words describing the importance of this moment in their lives and whispered “I do” gazing into each other’s eyes. Our audience of rapt beach walkers applauded when the couple kissed and seagulls squawked their approval.
For a new Justice of the Peace, performing a marriage sans audience has obvious benefits: it’s almost like a dress rehearsal! What a wonderful way to be inducted into the joy of joining two people in matrimony. Nobody walks down the aisle, in fact there is no aisle. No bridesmaid, father of the bride or best man participates. Stage fright is minimized for both the couple and officiant. The JP’s focus is on the couple alone and the couple’s is on each other.
You might think that couples choose to be married without witnesses for financial reasons or family strains or similar. But in my (admittedly limited) experience, a wedding for the couple alone can be an intimate and moving beginning to what every couple hopes will be a lifelong commitment to each other. And as the person legalizing this union so full of potential, I am totally devoted to making these moments beautiful and memorable. They certainly are for me.
Barbara Jay is the president of the Justice of the Peace Association