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CENTERPIECE

Novelty Nuptials

Couples bend the rules of ritual by planning ceremonies on boats, in airplanes, with bagpipes and in court.

June 25, 1998|ANN SHIELDS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Odds are that you have attended a June wedding at least once or twice over the years, or maybe even had one yourself. June weddings are ubiquitous, sprouting nervous grooms, flustered brides and meandering ring bearers. At least that is how they are depicted on funny home videos, where candle lighters singe the bridesmaid's hair and the groom's beeper goes off.

In reality, weddings are not quite so chaotic: Most grooms don't faint and brides manage to remember who they are marrying. But traditions have been taking a detour.

Take the couple who dispensed with the ceremonial ring exchange. They had rings already tattooed on their fingers when they arrived at the Cameo Wedding Chapel in Ventura where owner Richard Henniger officiates at many of the weddings. He has also officiated on a commercial boat where fish odors competed with floral fragrance. A helicopter wedding once proved so noisy that the ceremony took place back on the ground.

But wherever the location, adhering to specific requirements is what legalizes the marriage. After the license is obtained, what matters most are the words spoken and who says them.

For example, Henniger says couples are not considered married until that point in the ceremony where a duly authorized officiate--be it priest, rabbi, minister, judge, commissioner or deputized official--pronounces them married. Furthermore, three points must be covered in the ceremony.

"First, you have to identify the couple by stating their names. Second, you make certain they understand and respond one way or another that they do want to get married--usually through the I-do's and the ring exchange.

"Lastly, under state law, you must pronounce them as married. Up to that point, they are not married," he said.

He says no one has ever balked at the last minute, but one couple returned 30 minutes later and asked him to undo it. Another groom showed up after a weekend honeymoon and wanted to take it all back, explaining that his blushing bride was not such a nice lady after all.

As for marrying in haste, you still must obtain a license. The county clerk at the Government Center in Ventura issues licenses, as do city clerks in Thousand Oaks, Fillmore and Port Hueneme, usually for city employees and residents.

County Commissioner Richard Dean may deputize someone to perform a ceremony even if that person might not normally be qualified. This can occur at the request of a close friend or family member and is granted on a case-by-case basis, for that specific ceremony.

"Most counties don't bother because of the hassle of deputizing someone for one ceremony. It's mainly done in cases where someone is [terminally ill] and getting married in the hospital, or the grandfather is a retired minister," Henniger said.

At Cameo chapel, co-owner Shirley Henniger happens to be the last of the trained notaries still deputized to issue licenses. This opportunity results in busy weekends with people in a rush to marry, not always under legal circumstances. For example, one might be under age or not legally divorced, in which case they are turned away.

Don't worry about being over the hill when it comes to marriage. Richard Henniger's oldest marrying couple were 89 and 87. Required by the state to give couples a pamphlet they must sign, he handed the pair a copy of, "If There Are Children in Your Future."

"We were a little worried that they wouldn't make it through the ceremony, they laughed so hard," he said.

One middle-age couple seemed familiar to Henniger. No wonder. Turned out he had married them to each other on two occasions. Twice divorced during a 20-year span, they were back for a third try.

At another wedding, prankster guests donned Groucho masks during Henniger's pronouncement. When the newlyweds turned to face their guests, 50 Grouchos grinned back.

Even with an endless variety of sites available, wedding chapels are busier than ever, perhaps another fallout of El Nino. "I did two weddings up at the cross, [at Grant Park above downtown Ventura] two years in a row on Aug. 9, and got rained on both times," Henniger said.

Outdoor ceremonies are primed for other hazards besides unpredictable weather, such as uninvited gawkers. Janet Campbell, wedding and party consultant, recalls videotaping a wedding ceremony where guests had a view of the ocean. Along came bikini-clad in-line skaters, who stopped to watch the proceedings.

"With 350 guests at $85 per person for dinner and a four-hour open bar, here were these guys in shorts and gals in bikinis, not even aware they would be seen on the video," Campbell said.

At the other end of the spectrum, Campbell once performed a ceremony for a convicted murderer and his 19-year-old girlfriend immediately after the groom was sentenced to 20 years in prison. The courtroom was cleared and the bailiff asked how long the ceremony would take.

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