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New York Bids to Be Wedding Capital

New York City has revamped its wedding bureau, the city office where for $60, including the marriage license, a clerk will marry you in a two-minute civil ceremony. Officials say they want to make New York a leading destination for weddings, more popular even than Las Vegas' quickie wedding chapels.

Getting married at “City Hall” used to mean waiting in line in a cramped corridor inside the Municipal Building. Forty thousand people were married there in 2007. The grand new space in a restored 1920s building a few blocks north is the city's bid to make New York a destination for “nuptial tourists” from all over the world.

“You don't have to be a New York resident or United States citizen,” Acting City Clerk Michael McSweeney explained to reporters recently. “You can be from any country in the world. All we ask is that you have your valid passport, and you can have your marriage here in New York City."

Couples must first obtain a marriage license. After a 24-hour minimum waiting period, they may return and be married by McSweeney or another official. Celebrants may bring their own live or recorded music, and as many family members and friends as they like. McSweeney says that the new chapels will hold around 50 people, but that his office will work to make arrangements for larger parties.

“We're very excited. This was a beautiful ceremony,” a newly married Michelle [nee Nunez] Moore said a few minutes after her wedding. Her husband, Kenya Moore, seconded that. “The renovations are beautiful here, and I had my best friends here, so everything came out good.” Like many couples who marry at the bureau, the Moores plan to hold a church wedding later, with many more guests. In the meantime, they say, the city ceremony was a convenient way to marry quickly.

The $12-million new space, gleaming with refurbished marble and bronze Art Deco details, includes a store that sells fresh flowers and other wedding accessories. Those include $9 fake-diamond wedding bands, says city official Geraldine Sweeney. “In case you forgot your ring,” she said. “And they are actually stretchy rings, so they fit any size.” Wedding rings for men will come next, she said.

While it’s still first-come, first-served, there’s no standing in line at the new wedding bureau. Couples sign in at computer kiosks when they arrive, and electronic queue signs overhead notify them when it's their turn to wed in one of two new “chapels.” Designed by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s own decorator, Jamie Drake, both rooms display paintings borrowed from city museums as well as copies behind glass of New York City’s old wedding registers.

Dominic and Elizabeth Frazier, long-distance tractor-trailer drivers who aren’t always on the same coast, were married recently in the pink “West” chapel. The groom, a New York native, said that it was the only city he’d consider being married in. His new wife chimed in that they also needed to get married while she happened to be in New York.

The Fraziers didn't require it, but non-English speakers who come to the bureau can have the help of telephone translators available in 170 different languages, according to the City Clerk’s office. And couples may exchange their own vows, if they're not too long-winded.

“The typical ceremony is on average one to two minutes,” McSweeney explained. “We call it our 'New York minute' ceremony. And the reason for that is we are required by law to marry as many couples as arrive on any given day."

The one thing that those seeking to wed at the new city office cannot have is a religious ceremony presided over by a cleric. And the offices are closed on the weekends. But those seeking to marry inexpensively in New York have other choices. Visitors can hire their own officiant and have their wedding any day of the year in one of the city's parks, or even on a landmark like the Brooklyn Bridge.