Mayors and the Art of Marrying
(Crystal A. Proxmire, Oct. 10, 2018)
Pleasant Ridge, Madison Heights, Oak Park, Ferndale, and Southfield, MI- Mayors have a variety of duties, as well as ceremonial opportunities. But perhaps the most romantic of these is the ability to help loving couples dedicate their lives to each other in matrimony.
Mayors are not obligated to officiate weddings, but they are permitted to under Michigan Public Act 211 of 1972. Mayors across the state, including through Oakland County, have embraced the chance to celebrate love in their communities.
This honor was even more special for Pleasant Ridge Mayor Kurt Metzger who recently had the joy of performing the ceremony for his daughter Leah Fulton and her husband Brad Wing.
“I am proud of my daughter for being an incredible single mother of three wonderful little girls, who decided that a divorce would not change the fact that they were her first priority,” Metzger said. “Brad’s most important quality for me -and there are others- is that he loves my daughter and her girls. I am impressed that a single guy in his late 30s cared so much for a woman that he was ready and willing to start marriage with an instant family.”
The ceremony took place Sept. 28 at Memorial Park, next to City Hall, with friends and family surrounding the happy couple. It was the 14th wedding for Mayor Metzger, and he hopes to perform many more.
Though nothing can compare to officiating for his daughter, much happiness has come from being able to perform same-sex weddings in recent years. “While each of the weddings has been special, especially because I knew one or both of the participants in each case, the weddings that became possible after the same sex marriage ban was lifted are tops on my list. Learning the couples’ stories regarding their number of years together and seeing the joy of marriage that they never thought would be possible. Those have been the best.”
Metzger said “The decision to marry and dedicate your life to another individual is one of life’s biggest moments. (Although some people replicate that moment again and again). The opportunity to be an integral part of that ceremony, especially for people you know and love, is just THE BEST.”
Madison Heights Mayor Brian Hartwell has pursued performing weddings with a passion, even asking Judge Keith Hunt to send officiator requests from the court to him. Mayor Hartwell officiates about 20 weddings each year.
“Officiating weddings is one of the most special experiences for an elected official. I get a front row seat to a huge moment in their lives,” he said. “City hall is usually a boring, emotionless cavern where residents deal with stressful situations like paying bills or applying for building licenses. A wedding brightens up the space and reminds us we exist to serve people.”
Several weddings have stuck particularly well in the Mayor’s heart. “A friend asked me to officiate her wedding at the Red Oaks Nature Center,” he said.
“Another wedding was memorable for how late the couple was. The entire wedding party arrived 15 minutes late on their Harley Davidson motorcycles. The smell of exhaust and leather linger in my mind.
“Another wedding was for a US Marine days before he was redeployed to Afghanistan. “I’ve married couples from Russia, Belarus, Germany, Canada, Mexico, the USA, the Philippines, China, Taiwan, and Vietnam. I’ve officiated a few same sex couples.
“I officiated a wedding for a 90 year old Hazel Park woman who was getting hitched for the first time in her life. She was stunning, in love, and of sound mind.
“If weather permits, I invite the couple outside to perform the wedding in our gazebo. One outdoor wedding was highly organized by the family including white carpet laid out on the sidewalk, live musicians, flowers, and dancing. I generally do not join the families if they invite me to a reception but I often see the couples I marry in public throughout the year.”
When asked what advice he might have for Mayors new to the task, Hartwell said, “It is important to me to memorize the wedding rites so that I can make eye contact with the couple. It would seem so impersonal to read the vows with my nose in a book. Also, when I’m making eye contact I won’t miss the special moments like if someone cries or wobbles from weak knees or drops a ring from a sweaty palms.”
Oak Park Mayor Marian McClellan gives homework to the couples she officiates for. “There is a meeting before the ceremony where the officiant, the
witnesses and the bride and groom sign the Marriage Licenses. I ask the couple how they decided to get married in Oak Park, how they met, what they like best about their partner. Then, as a former teacher, I have to give them homework, so I ask them to make a dated list of everything they like about their partner on this day. Then put the list in a safe place and take it out to read it when they have an argument, helping them to remember it’s more important to be kind than to be right.”
The Rabbi who performed her wedding ceremony had a technique so great that McClellan passes it on to those who come before her. “Rabbi Robert Syme who performed our wedding in 1991 at Ken and Sharon Wolf’s lovely home told us that all of his weddings come with a guarantee for happiness, so I always pass that guarantee on to couples I marry. It has worked for us for twenty-seven years.”
Since being elected Mayor in 2011, McClellan has performed over fifty weddings. “The best ones are when the couples are really in love and are delighted to be getting married,” she said.
She sees this duty not only as a way to honor couples in love, but as a way to save them money too. “I always compliment the couple on choosing a small scale wedding rather than being a victim of the Wedding Industrial Complex,” she said. “Everyone does not need to spend a fortune on a movie star wedding. Did you know the average wedding costs $30,000? For one night? You actually don’t need the Barbie Dream Wedding to be happily married. You can get married for $10 in front of a judge in the 45th District Court, or pay $85 to the City of Oak Park where $70 of that fee goes to the Oak Park Public Library in your name as a donation to the Mayor’s Fund for Kids. And if you choose that way, you have $29,915 left to spend on a home.”
The battle for same sex marriage happened in steps, and Ferndale Mayor Dave Coulter was among those in the trenches. On March 22, 2014 a Circuit Court ruling opened a one-day window in Michigan where over LGBT couples took their vows. Mayor Coulter performed ceremonies inside Affirmations LGBT Community Center, as only a few places in Michigan made provisions for the ceremonies to take place. Over 300 couples state-wide took vows, and for months the legality of those marriages was put to the test in the court system. Those weddings were performed in Ferndale, at the Oakland County Clerk’s Office in Pontiac, Muskegon County, Kent County and Eaton County.
In July 2015 a United States Supreme Court ruling made gay marriage legal for the nation, and Mayor Coulter was the first Mayor in Michigan to officiate, performing a service for couples at the community’s annual Ferndale Pride Festival.
“I was the first Mayor in Michigan to perform same sex weddings after the Supreme Court decision, including the wedding of current Southfield Mayor Ken Siver and his husband Zach. I barely got through those without tears just because of the historical significance of them, it was a day none of us were sure would ever come,” Mayor Coulter said.
The Ferndale Mayor averages a couple weddings per month, and estimates that he’s nearing 200 services. “It’s such a special and memorable day for them and I’m always honored just to be a small part of it. Plus I suppose I’m a romantic at heart and there’s so much love present.”
Mayors who want to perform ceremonies can find support from the Michigan Association of Mayors, including their 2015 guidebook that goes over the laws as well as advice.