We Waited 36 Years To Get Married, And The Judge Made All The Difference

We waited 36 years to get married, and the judge made all the difference

What kind of wedding do you have after over 3 decades of being together? When the Supreme Court made their ruling (a year ago today) and Sally and I could now get married in our home state of Georgia, we went through months of mulling over the idea of a wedding. We questioned the significance of traditional wedding rings, and the wisdom of mixing staid family with eccentric friends in the same space. Cost was definitely a factor. And then, suddenly, it just happened.


It was actually pretty funny. I took the day off so that we could go to obtain our marriage license. I was bracing myself for a “Kentucky clerk” experience, but everyone we encountered at the courthouse was nice. We were told we could go down the hall and get our marriage on the docket, or—sometimes—if a judge was available in Municipal Court, we could “do it today”.


An office worker in Municipal Court told us a judge would be there at 4pm. (This is Friday afternoon; what were the chances?) Sally and I decided to get a taco downtown and discuss it while we waited an hour and a half, until the judge was available. Our conclusion was that there was no time like the present.


The judge who performed our ceremony could not have been better. I knew as soon as I saw her disheveled red hair and billowing black robe that I liked her. We told her we did not have any vows prepared. So, the three of us just talked for a while—with an adorable witness grinning from ear-to-ear standing by, actively listening and nodding her head in agreement and understanding. Judge Leslie Spornberger Jones asked us questions: What were our fondest memories together? What were some challenges we had faced? Why did we not want a big wedding? It was very conversational.


Then we moved to another part of the room, for the actual ceremony. First she recited the traditional “I do’s”. Sally and I stood attentively facing the judge, and she said (with a big grin) “Don’t look at me. Look at each other!” Suddenly, as she said the “for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health” part, we were looking into each other’s eyes and both experienced a movielike montage of all of those things, already experienced together. Then she said “now for the untraditional part”, and she did an off-the-cuff version of the vows incorporating all that we had told her. An example would be “As [we] are taking care of cats together…” (in response to our mention of fostering orphan kittens and our own large family of cats) At one point she quoted “you and me against the world” and our mouths dropped open in unison. That was a huge catch phrase for us when were first together, when Sally was withdrawing from alcohol and we were dealing with family conflict. Also, Sally would sing (purposely out-of-tune) part of the 1970’s song by the same name.


The ring issue solved itself. As we left the house that morning, I had grabbed—on impulse—a handful of rings we might consider using. I thought we could discuss rings over coffee after getting the marriage license. In that assortment of rings was one of the pair I commissioned 36 years ago, when I more-or-less proposed to Sally. We used that ring for Sally, even though it would not fit over her arthritic knuckles. For me, we used a gold ring that had been given to Sally by a former girlfriend.


The ring exchange was hilarious. When I held up my hand for the ring, I blurted out in dismay, “Oh, my hands! I’ve been picking up pecans!” The tips of my nails were dyed completely black, from peeling the husks off pecans as I collected them.


The witness cried. She was beautiful, with an emotive face, and we learned that she works in the building, and enjoys providing the service often. She revealed that she doesn’t always cry, but that she was truly touched.


We were so lucky to have this very sensitive judge preside over our ceremony. She was amazing, and made the day very special. And it was certainly memorable.


When the judge said, “You may kiss the bride,” I felt a strange sensation. Really? I can kiss her in public? In a courthouse?


Neither of us brought a camera—not anticipating that we were about to get married—so the witness took some shots with the judge’s hot pink cell phone, and emailed them to us.


As it turns out, I was wearing Vera Wang for my wedding… a Vera Wang t-shirt from Kohl’s.


After it was over, and Sally and I got in the car to drive home, we simultaneously burst out laughing. We couldn’t believe what just happened. There was no fanfare, but it was perfect.


(Our marriage ceremony was Nov. 13, 2015.)