Heather Vargas is 31 weeks pregnant, and she and Charlton Paul wanted to tie the knot before they welcomed their baby girl, Navie Rain, into the world.
The couple from Paramount planned to go to an O.C. courthouse to get married on March 18, their 15-year anniversary. But after the March 17 order for Orange County to stop all nonessential gatherings, the county clerk-recorder had to cancel 800 marriage appointments.
On Friday, however, the county was back in the marriage business. Not at a courthouse, though. Instead, the agency set up three booths in the parking lot of Anaheim’s Honda Center, where staff gave out marriage licenses and performed ceremonies.
Paul and Vargas headed on down and said their I do’s.
Starting Monday, people can call the county’s marriage hotline at (714) 834-2740 to make an appointment at the Honda Center on every Friday until it’s safe to return to the courthouse.
“There is definitely a demand,” said Clerk-Recorder Hugh Nguyen. “We were getting calls, wanting us to do it over FaceTime.”
But legislation didn’t allow the ceremonies to be done that way, he said, so he had to figure out how to continue to help couples but also follow all health orders.
“I was looking for anything with glass in the front that could protect both my staff and the public,” Nguyen said.
He called movie theaters with the idea of using their ticket booths, but they were all closed. Then he reached out to the staff at the Orange County fairgrounds, but they couldn’t offer their space because the site was housing the homeless during the coronavirus crisis. But they offered their ticket booths.
A crew from O.C. Public Works picked up three booths, later decorated with heart banners. The Honda Center gave Nguyen permission to use its parking lot. Nguyen worked with Anaheim Mayor Harry Sidhu and other city officials to provide electricity and air conditioning inside the booths.
Because the holes in the ticket booths were sealed for full protection, the staff talks to the couples through walkie talkies. Couples have to hold up their driver’s licenses to the window and then pull down their required masks to show their faces. Most visits take about 10 to 15 minutes, and with three booths, the clerk-recorder staff has the capacity to do up to 60 visits a day.
Only one witness is allowed for each ceremony, so the rest of Paul’s and Vargas’ immediate families stood back near the parked cars to watch. But their witness used Zoom to livestream the vows to family members everywhere from the U.K. to Peru to Tel Aviv, so everyone could see Heather in the white dress made by her grandmother, and Charlton in a red tux and tie with purple accents, a nod to their wedding colors.
Annamarie Sucher-Jones and Paul Jones’ wedding colors were red and blue (their wedding hashtag is #RedandBlueSayIDo), so she showed up in a red dress she had worn for a previous Valentine’s Day date, and they brought red and blue pinwheels, in lieu of bouquets, that were spinning speedily in the wind.
They were wearing masks with “Bride” and “Groom” embroidered on them by Sucher-Jones.
“We thought it’d be a funny memento to show the time we are living in,” she said. “To show this is when we got married.“
They had planned to get married at La Purisima Church in Orange, but the priest encouraged them to get married earlier. When the church opens again, they plan to still do their full service.
“Rather than to have too much uncertainty, and also not having the rights and protections of being married in these times, we wanted to spread hope to family and friends and others that will be comforted to know that we’re taking care of each other in this tough time,” Jones said.
David Steinmetz and Kaitlin Tran, of Cypress, who met two years ago on the online dating site Coffee Meets Bagel, were supposed to get married at the Oak Canyon Nature Center in Anaheim Hills, with family from Texas, Ohio and Australia in attendance. But they had to reschedule their gathering to October.
“It’s kind of weird that we’re going to get married in a parking lot,” Steinmetz said. “People will be like, ‘Why did you choose the Honda Center?’ ”
Tran laughed. “We didn’t choose it.”
“That’s the only option we had,” Steinmetz said.
It’s not what what any of them had planned.
But by early afternoon, the weather was nice, the sky was clear, there were picturesque palm trees in the background, and the big open space allowed other couples to socially distance in a way that felt safe.
As Luana Dansby, Charton Paul’s mother, watched her son get married, she teared up.
“He’s 31 and starting his own family, but in my mind, he’s still my little baby,” she said. “I’m just so proud of him, and he couldn’t be married to a better person.”
“So many people got together to for us to do this, and even though it all fell apart, they were still there for us, which is the most amazing thing,” the now Heather Paul said. “We’re extremely blessed in the start of our marriage and the start of our little family that we have the support of all the people around us.”
Tseng writes for Times Community News.