Flor Ibañez wore a white dress and held a bouquet of flowers as she walked hand-in-hand with her new husband, Jaime. The couple had just been officially married in a mass ceremony at the Bexar County Courthouse, but they stole away to a secluded area nearby for a moment of privacy to read each other their vows.
Flor, 32, and Jaime Ibañez, 35, were among 72 other couples who said “I do” in the dark early Tuesday morning. The ceremony started exactly at 12:01 a.m.
They wore broad smiles as they admired the crowd of nearly 300 people — newly married couples plus friends and family members — hugging and posing for photos on the courthouse steps just after midnight on Valentine’s Day.
The Ibañez couple were the first to arrive, getting in line on the courthouse steps at 9:45 p.m. Monday.
“We just wanted to get married,” Jaime and Flor Ibañez said in unison as they turned to each other, made eye contact and smiled.
The free mass wedding ceremony at the Bexar County Courthouse has been a Valentine’s Day tradition in San Antonio for 33 years. The 12:01 a.m. ceremony was the first of four scheduled for Tuesday at the courthouse. Ordinarily a courthouse wedding costs between $25 and $500, said County Clerk Lucy Adame-Clark.
While the ceremony was free, there was a suggested donation of $20 to benefit the Battered Women’s Shelter and Bexar County Justice Center. As of 11 a.m., the fund was almost at $8,000.
The ceremony at midnight was the largest. At the 10 a.m. ceremony, 40 couples tied the knot. Another 42 couples said “I do” at noon, and 62 couples got married at 2 p.m.
Last year, capacity was limited to 22 couples per ceremony due to COVID-19, and the previous year Winter Storm Uri caused the event to be canceled entirely.
At the midnight ceremony, the courthouse plaza was decorated with string lights wrapped around the trees. Music from a DJ filled the air as friends and family admired the couples to be married. The Spurs Coyote mascot was on hand.
Some couples dressed up for the occasion, the brides in white dresses, heels and veils while their grooms wore suit and tie. Other couples wore casual attire.
Before the mass ceremony, Adame-Clark shared some brief advice on marriage, including the need to provide each other with support, love and strength.
“It is so beautiful to have these couples come in and be able to celebrate a day of ceremonial celebration, especially on Valentine’s Day,” Adame-Clark said later. “To me, it’s a moment you never want to forget and you want to make it special.”
Couples who tied the knot at the midnight ceremony included military service members, San Antonio locals and people who traveled for the special occasion. At the end of the ceremony, couples exchanged rings and had a moment to say special words to each other before kissing their new spouses.
For the Ibañezes, the mass wedding ceremony did not distract them from sharing a special moment. Because the couple is planning a larger, formal wedding, they wanted their Valentine’s Day wedding to be intimate, explaining why they broke off to a quiet area to exchange their vows, crying as they reflected on their love story.
“Our story is pretty wild if you believe in TikTok,” said Jaime Ibañez, who is from Eagle Pass.
On Aug. 3, 2021, an ex-girlfriend of his posted a short video, saying they were not at the same place in life and that she wasn’t the person meant for him.
As Flor Garcia, who’s from El Paso, scrolled through her “For You” page on TikTok, she watched the video and followed Jaime, who was tagged in the video.
One day later, the couple began conversing through the app.
They finally met in person in October and spent a week together, going on several dates in San Antonio. Three weeks after they met, Jaime asked for Flor’s hand in marriage. The couple immediately began house hunting in San Antonio and moved into their first place on Thanksgiving.
“It was like puzzle pieces coming together,” Jaime said, describing how easy everything fell into place. “We didn’t even have a house and I already had a job here,” Flor said.
Two weeks ago when Flor sent Jaime information about the courthouse wedding event, Jaime said: “Yes, ma’am, let’s get the rings and go.”