'Exactly what we wanted:' Couples and judges praise courthouse wedding option

RALEIGH (WTVD) -- Both the bride and groom were nervous. As the two held hands and gazed lovingly in each other's eyes, Alexander Mueller reached over, and with his finger, gently wiped away a tear from his fiancee's cheek.

"Marriage is designed for the happiness and welfare of mankind," a solemn voice intoned nearby, "and therefore should be entered into advisedly, discretely, and in good faith. Alexander, will you take Ara as your lawfully wedded spouse?"

"I will," Mueller said.

When the question was repeated for Ara Choi, with a smile, she also gave her consent to marry Mueller.

For Chief Magistrate Christopher Graves, who was conducting this ceremony, Mueller and Choi were the latest of thousands of couples he's married at the Wake County Justice Center in downtown Raleigh.

The ceremonies take place in courtroom 901 during regular business hours. Each typically takes about 15 minutes.

"When it gets busy, it's not uncommon for the magistrate to do 25 to 30 weddings in one day," Graves said. "We'll definitely be in the spirit on Valentine's Day -- anticipate doing a lot of ceremonies!"

There's no appointment needed for a civil ceremony. Just $20 in cash. For Choi and Mueller the low-key, low-cost ceremony fit their needs perfectly.

"It's really special," Choi said. "Not so hectic and expensive and everything. It was just exactly what we wanted."

For Matthew Christian and Azaria Baer, another couple getting married on one particular Friday afternoon, a quick courthouse wedding was needed before the two of them headed overseas for two separate military deployments.

"It was nice," said Baer, who wore a traditional white wedding gown. "Having our whole family, too, made it special."

With the average cost of a wedding in the US now topping $25,000, many couples who opt for a courthouse wedding do so to keep from starting out their wedded bliss deep in debt. Others use the money they save to help purchase a home, or to take that dream honeymoon.

Some couples dress up for their civil wedding; others very definitely dress down. Magistrate Graves said although Valentine's Day gets busy, Halloween is a busy time as well, with some couples opting to dress in costume.

"I recall one couple who requested if they could wear fake teeth during their ceremony," Graves told me. "And of course we were happy to oblige their request."

For the magistrates, conducting ceremonies is a nice change of pace from the usual and sometimes grim cases over which they have to preside.

"Oh, I love doing the wedding ceremonies," says Magistrate Judge Jennifer Jackson. "It's really a good break from the rest of our work as a magistrate."

Jackson offers this tip for those couples considering it:

"My advice is not to bring champagne with you because they won't let you bring it past security in the courthouse. I had a couple last week that tried and they stopped them downstairs. But the couple did tell me later that they could come and enjoy a glass with me outside afterwards!"

For more details about civil marriage ceremonies in Wake County, check out this link.
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