TV & Radio
The New York Times
Get Me to the Las Vegas Marriage Bureau on Time
By JENNIFER STEINHAUER
Published: September 3, 2006
LAS VEGAS, Sept. 2 — Jogging up the stairs of the courthouse, clutching hands and looking tense, Holly Otero and Blain Moos became the last couple to secure a wedding license at midnight on Friday, rushing from the airport to the clerk’s office before the door slammed shut.
Josh Harris was not so lucky. His flight from Arkansas was delayed in Dallas, felling his chances to surprise his girlfriend with a late-night trip to the court and a witching-hour wedding at the Little White Chapel, which he called after midnight, nearly starting to cry when he realized he would be too late.
There are things people like to do here at 2 a.m. that they cannot do anywhere else, like pulling on a slot machine while their clothes run through the spin cycle, discussing sumo wrestling with a topless circus performer and getting married on an indoor gondola.
But anyone who wants to say “I do” in the middle of the night will now be required to use a bit of forethought.
On Friday, the marriage license bureau here ended its tradition of staying open 24 hours a day on Fridays, Saturdays and holidays, limiting licensure to what only here could be considered the outrageously unfair hours of 8 a.m. to midnight, 365 days a year.
Of course, ending middle-of-the-night marriages in Las Vegas would be akin to shutting down bikini mud wrestling at Gilley’s, or forcing Celine Dion to wear Ann Taylor. “People can still get married,” sighed Stacey Welling, a spokeswoman for Clark County, which includes Las Vegas. “As long as they can find a chapel. They just have to plan to get a license earlier.”
The bureau, which began operating a weekend and holiday graveyard shift in 1979, will save $200,000 in the county’s $1.4 billion budget by ending the shift, during which Ms. Welling said about 5,000 of the 122,000 marriage licenses the county issues each year are acquired.
Charlotte Richards, who owns the Little White Chapel on the Las Vegas Strip, said the loss was going to come right out of her coffers. “I am really upset about it,” Ms. Richards said. She said she conducted 10 to 20 weddings each weekend night, with at least three of those couples needing the marriage license bureau in the middle of the night.
Further, she said, celebrities who want to wed in Las Vegas do not want to have to stand in line for a license with the rest of the honoring-and-cherishing world, and like the discretion of midnight hours.
She should know, because she said she had married plenty of them, though she would not name any — except for Joan Collins, Demi Moore and Bruce Willis, Michael Jordan, and Britney Spears and “her first love.” Ms. Spears took advantage of the graveyard shift to get her marriage license. The chapel’s late-night weddings will continue, Ms. Richards said, “I just have to work through this with a lot of hurt.”
Shirley B. Parraguirre, the county clerk, is not particularly tickled to hear about Ms. Richards’s displeasure. The roughly 80 wedding chapels around the city were sent notices of the change and asked for feedback, Ms. Parraguirre said, but she had heard zip. “We had an open public hearing, and no one showed up,” she said. “It is really puzzling to me.”
On Friday, the city’s marriage industry was bustling. There were brides in silky, flowing gowns, some beaming, others looking slightly terrified. One couple — he with a cigar clenched between his teeth, she unsmiling — were wed under a tree at the Little White Chapel. When it was over, the bride gave her groom a pat on the back.
Friday night, outside the wedding license bureau in the courthouse, marked in pink neon lettering above the door, the “chapel rats,” so called by the security guards for their forceful hustling of chapel services to slightly bewildered couples, hawked. Some couples were giddy. Others seemed long schooled in the ways of marital bickering.
Michael Williams, the affable guard who keeps careful watch over the bureau, said that scores more couples than normal showed up Friday, anticipating the closing hour. “The new deadline won’t stop drunk people from getting married in the middle of night,” Mr. Williams said. “They show up drunk all day long. I keep them from getting married.”
Ms. Parraguirre said the majority of people who showed up for a wedding license during the graveyard shift had no intention of racing off to get married anyway. “We think there is a misconception here,” she said. “The people coming in during those hours are normally not planning impulse overnight weddings, they fly in or drive in. They think, ‘Well, we need to do this, there are no lines, let’s just do it now.’ ”
Weddings have been a mainstay of the Las Vegas experience since the 1920’s, taking off with the widespread use of the automobile in the 1940’s, when the Hitching Post and the Wee Kirk o’ the Heather opened their doors. Inspired by the lax licensing laws — no blood test, no waiting — couples flocked from around the region, and eventually the country, to wed.
Among the earliest celebrity clients were the actors Clara Bow and Rex Bell, who tied the knot here in 1931, said Guy Rocha, the state archivist.
Just like its casinos, restaurants, hotels and adult entertainers, Las Vegas wedding chapels cater to all tastes. Couples can combine a wedding with a day package to the most expensive spa in town or drive through a chapel in a limo for a five-minute ceremony. For $365, you can get in the spirit of Lancelot, or step out of a coffin and bare fangs at your betrothed during a gothic ceremony.
Several chapel owners said they were indifferent to the change. “They probably were losing money, and there is no point in it,” said the Rev. David Nye, who is a co-owner of A Las Vegas Wedding Chapel.
“Who would this affect? Britney Spears, that’s all,’’ Mr. Nye said. “I am not sure why there is a controversy. Most people are shocked to death that it was open in the middle of the night to begin with. If 8 to midnight isn’t enough, I don’t know what is.”
Tell that to poor Mr. Harris.