Not all marriages are announced with wedding bells. For some couples, it’s as silent as a few signatures between themselves, a justice of the peace and a town clerk. Who needs bells and whistles when you have love?
While all types of people go for quick, two-day or same-day marriages, it’s undeniable that since 2008, when Connecticut legalized same sex matrimony, local towns have seen an influx of gay couples looking for a quick tie of the knot in town hall. Town clerks issue the marriage licenses, but do not perform the ceremony. That task is left to a justice of the peace.
“I marry three types of couples," said Mary Pugh, a Norwalk-based CT Justice of the Peace. "People who get a big fancy mansion and have a wedding, people who have been together for a million years and just want to get married, and the third group is people from out of state.”
Pugh, who is something of a wedding guru, said she gets between three and 20 calls and e-mails a day.
“Today it was [couples from] Atlanta and Ohio,” she said.
Out-of-state couples are usually gay couples seeking marriage rights. Depending on their arrival point, couples have several towns to choose from, although efficiency and proximity to Interstate 95 often figure into the decision making.
Greenwich is a hot spot for quick marriages. Couples there can get married as early as 9 a.m. the day after they apply for a marriage certificate. Greenwich has a direct train line to New York City, making it an appealing place for couples looking to celebrate in the big city.
There were 376 civil marriage licenses issued in Greenwich in 2010, compared with 153 religious ones. Greenwich Town Hall does not keep demographic records of marriages, although Assistant Registrar of Vital Records Barbra Lowden said that “a lot of [same sex] couples come in for a quick marriage.”
Couples need to know the rules and waiting times which are different for every town, said Pugh, who travels to perform marriages in towns across the state.
“For example, Bridgeport. You can’t get married on a Thursday," she said. That's because one of the necessary offices is closed. Sherman Town Hall is open in the morning on weekends, but couples should call in advance to make sure. Trumbull Town Hall has additional business hours on Saturday, but only once a month.
“If people want to get married quickly, I suggest Darien. Go to the parks, the beaches [after the wedding]. is happy to do a small lunch for their friends,” Pugh said.
And just how many couples seek out Darien for a same-day marriage license?
“Lots,” said Darien’s Town Clerk Donna Rajezewski. “Gay couples are coming in from out of town and are looking to be married on the same day. [Couples] come in from New York, Arizona, the Carolinas; you never know.”
And the turnaround time for a license can be as quick as 20 minutes, Rajezewski said.
“Some of them plan a weekend, then go to the city and see a show or something. Or they’ll turn around and go right back home,” she said. “Since gay marriages first started, even with civil unions, Darien was a good place to come because we turn out a license immediately.”
Between April 8 and April 15, six marriage licenses were issued. Five were for same sex couples, Rajezewski said.
Norwalk, Ridgefield, Greenwich, and New Canaan report similar increases in quickie weddings.
Ridgefield has had “quite a few same sex marriages” recently, Ridgefield Town Clerk Barbra Serfilippi said. Ridgefield also has an immediate turnaround time for licenses.
“They come from all parts of the country: Florida last week, New York, Ohio, Virginia, and some from foreign countries too. [One couple] may have been from Denmark, and another from one of the Arab nations,” Serfilippi said.
With all these out-of-town visitations, one office has become a miniature, non-religious chapel.
Andrew Garfunkel, Town Clerk of Norwalk, said there are about 500 marriages in total throughout Norwalk each year. From his own recollection, Garfunkel estimates that about 10 percent are same sex.
“Almost once a week someone wants to get married [right away], it doesn’t matter to them the location,” he said.
With such high demand, and facing a lack of facilities, Garfunkel’s office began to transform. Fake ivy crept over the walls, an archway sprung up, and exotic stuffed-animal birds made nest among the thick leaves that sprouted from twisting branches.
“It’s a joyous occasion for most people, so we try to be accommodating,” he said.
Norwalk has a 24-hour waiting period, but there have been same day exceptions to that rule, such as for military personnel, hospital patients, and pressed for time out-of-towners. Garfunkel has gone on weekend calls to the hospital prior to a major surgery or after a diagnosis of an illness.
“Out of all the duties I have in this office, the marriage license is the most rewarding,” he said.
Also recommended for a lightning wedding is New Canaan, which has about a one-hour turnaround time. New Canaan’s Town Hall is also within walking distance from the train station.
“People have arrived here from all over the country: Texas, Montana, California, Florida, the Carolinas,” said Claudia Weber, .
The numbers speak for themselves: In 2010, 83 out of 173 marriage licenses issued were for same sex couples, according to the town clerk's office.
“We had a couple who came in from Ireland; they were performing in NYC at one of the cathedrals and part of their singing group came with them, and actually sang in the middle of the marriage ceremony. It was only 10 or 15 minutes long but it was very moving. Then they went out to lunch and took a stretch limo back to the city,” said Weber.