Shortly after midnight on Thursday, 124 people stood on the steps of the Bexar County Courthouse and said “I do.”
Last Valentine’s Day, 70 couples took advantage of the first free wedding ceremony offered that day. This year, 62 couples were married minutes after midnight on Feb. 14. The highest number of couples married at annual midnight ceremony on record is 103 couples in 2008, according to the county clerk’s office.
Bexar County Clerk Lucy Adame-Clark conducted the marriage ceremony in English while Judge Rosie Speedlin Gonzalez, who presides over County Court 13, prompted people to repeat marriage vows after her in Spanish.
The entire wedding ceremony took less than eight minutes.
“By the authority vested in me, by the laws of the State of Texas, I pronounce you spouses,” Adame-Clark told the crowd at 12:07 a.m.
Melissa and Mike Garza stood toward the outer edge of the crowded steps. She wore a white lace dress and a veil, while he sported a winter coat over a suit and tie. The two had been dating for five years before Mike popped the question.
“I never believed in marriage, but I knew I couldn’t live without her,” he said. “I told her, ‘I can’t live without you. Be my wife.’”
The couple have a “blended family” of seven children, Melissa said. They left the kids at home during the wedding, though.
“We wanted to bring our kids, but it’s a school night,” Mike explained.
Mike had seen the annual Bexar County Valentine’s Day wedding tradition on TV in the past, and Melissa loved the idea of getting married on the steps of the Bexar County Courthouse.
“It’s so expensive nowadays to get married with the big shebang,” Melissa said. “And [being] born and raised in San Antonio … this is a great way to enjoy the night. [We’ll] take pictures by [San Fernando] Cathedral, walk the River Walk, and take the kids to school in the morning. And we’ll have a cake at home for them.”
Rosie Esparza and her husband Fidencio also share seven children from previous marriages. The two met in 1982 while attending Edgewood Junior High School, and Rosie still has a photo of them at a Valentine’s Day dance when she was in seventh grade. She had a big crush on Fidencio then, who was a year older, she said.
“Thirty-two years later he found me on Facebook,” she said. “He had kids, I had kids. We dated for seven years, and then he proposed to me on Dec. 31 on the River Walk. And now we can make my family complete.”
The tradition of offering free weddings on Valentine’s Day started in 1989 and has been going strong since then, Adame-Clark said. She was elected in November to serve as the first Hispanic Bexar County Clerk. Gonzalez was elected as the first openly LGBTQIA judge in Bexar County in November as well.
“We’re making history in so many ways,” Adame-Clark said.
As Gonzalez looked out over the couples ready to be married, she noted there was “a whole lot of love” present.
“There’s going to be a lot of babies born right before Thanksgiving,” she said to a laughing crowd.
After the ceremony, the two officials instructed the couples to kiss their spouses – but also to keep an eye out for their marriage certificates, which would be available in a week or two. Copies cost $8 each, Adame-Clark reminded the crowd.
Michael and Cynthia Phillips got married in matching pink outfits, and Cynthia held a bouquet of pink roses. They had been together for 27 years and have four children and 11 grandchildren, but Cynthia said she never felt rushed to get married.
“We were just together for so long,” she said. “He had been asking, I kept putting it off. But we’re getting older.”
Michael said he wanted to make their relationship official. “We wanted to get married in the eyes of God,” he said.
The County Clerk will offer three more free weddings Thursday at 10 a.m., noon, and 2 p.m. Couples must have already obtained a marriage license 72 hours prior (unless they are on active duty in the military), completed a state-approved premarital education course, and present the certificate to the judge. The judge may also waive the waiting period.