Valentine's Day or not, North County is spinning pretty fast these days. More and more couples are plunging into the marriage pool. Last year in North County, 5,957 marriage licenses were issued out of the county clerk's office in Vista. In 1989, 5,647 licenses were issued.
Although most weddings are formal affairs held in a church, many couples choose an alternate path to wedded life: walking down the aisle at a wedding chapel.
The average cost of a large, formal church wedding followed by a reception (not including honeymoon) is about $12,000, according to Jim Somers, president of an Encinitas-based company that produces annual bridal bazaars. The cost of getting hitched in a wedding chapel can be as little as $50.
The chapel approach appeals to couples wanting a nondenominational wedding, those without the time to search for a caterer who knows how to carve radishes into heart-shaped roses, those wanting to tie the knot sooner rather than later, and those who would just as soon spend their money on a down payment for a house or a trip to Tahiti.
Whether given a day's or a month's notice, most North County chapels try to offer more than a Las Vegas-style wedding. They provide bridal consultants and can recommend caterers, musicians and florists. The bride and groom have lots of choices, from arriving at the chapel in a horse-drawn carriage to saying "I do" on horseback.
Here is a sample of what North County has in the way of nondenominational wedding chapels and facilities.
I DO WEDDINGS
530 W. Vista Way
In Betty Coplin's line of work, there is no rest for the weary. Recently laid up in bed with the flu, the marriage minister was still busily booking weddings over the phone for the next day and for as far down the road as August.
Coplin, owner of I Do Weddings in Vista, has married off more than 5,500 couples in the last eight years, an average of about 85 a month. When nearby Camp Pendleton troops were deployed to the Persian Gulf in August, she performed 120 ceremonies for military personnel--32 on just one Saturday.
That's why the marrying minister blinks nary an eye at her Valentine's Day schedule. The average 12 weddings she performs on this heartfelt holiday, as well as the 20 ceremonies she did when the holiday fell on a weekend one year, are a piece of cake in comparison.
Coplin's listing in the Yellow Pages boasts no waiting, choice of English or Spanish ceremony, and that she can go to the location of your choice or perform the ceremony in her wedding salon. Coplin is one of a handful of ministers in North County certified to issue a confidential marriage license, which allows same-day ceremonies because there is no waiting period for blood tests.
She has married military personnel, foreign tourists, and people as young as 16 and as old as 89.
"You see a lot of human nature in this business," Coplin said. "It's a nice business to be in, a happy business to be in."
The windowless main room of Coplin's wedding salon accommodates up to 32 guests and is decorated in mauve colors with living greenery--not plastic or silk. There are also a dressing room for the bride and a separate room for picture taking.
Coplin gauges her fee by the number of guests. If a bride and groom take their vows without an audience, the price is $50. With as many as 30 guests, the cost is $100.
Coplin has composed eight short ceremonies from which a couple may choose, or if they prefer, the bride and groom can recite vows of their own making. In her opening remarks, Coplin always talks about commitment.
"Marriage is an important commitment regardless of how you do it," she said.
GRAY WEDDING GROUP
2091 E. Valley Parkway
The Rev. T.G. (Theodore Gilbert) Gray performed his first wedding in July, 1983, out of a travel trailer on his 2.5-acre Valley Center property.
A high school and junior high school teacher for 25 years, Gray became an ordained minister in 1977 and was inspired to become a marrying man after he read an article about Betty Coplin and her ministry in Vista.
Since that first ceremony in the trailer, Gray has helped 1,177 couples say "I do."
Gray has turned away less than half a dozen couples in the past eight years. He won't marry anyone intoxicated; he won't marry anyone in a hot air balloon (fear of heights), and he won't marry the same woman twice.
"It doesn't feel right . . . when she's promised before God to love, honor until death do her part, and a year later she comes back to me with another man," said Gray, who himself has been married more than once. "It's just a kind of personal feeling and I'm uncomfortable with it."
Other than that, just about anything goes. He has married some of his former students, sisters, mothers, pregnant teens and grandparents.
He has married couples on horseback and two 16-year-olds in iridescent spandex biking shorts who showed up at his office on bicycles and left the same way.