Some judges are “marrying” judges, that is, they enjoy performing weddings and being part of those often joyous celebratory events. I didn’t, for the most part, fall into this group, although when I first became a Civil Court judge (having been elected in 1981), I received calls from time to time from the administrative judge asking whether I would be able to perform a wedding, usually over a weekend. After saying no a few times, I thought it prudent to answer in the affirmative lest my future part assignments take an unpleasant turn.
Of course, I had no idea of the procedure to follow; I obviously knew at some point I would be obliged to ask the bride and groom to take vows and also to complete the marriage license.
I didn’t have any idea where to get a marriage ceremony. This was well before the advent of the Internet. So, one day, at lunch at the 12th floor lunchroom of the Civil Court, I brought up the subject and was inundated with offers of sample ceremonies from my luncheon companions, all apparently veterans of numerous wedding ceremonies.
By the following morning I must have had at least six such ceremonies in my mailbox. There were passages from Corinthians, Ecclesiastes, Shakespeare, Emily Dickenson and even Bob Dylan. I went forward, as most of my colleagues had probably done, in fashioning a cut and paste job, picking out the parts and flourishes that I liked and omitting the rest. Naturally they all started the same way: Friends and family of X and Y, we are gathered here to join X and Y in lawful matrimony (or marriage) and at the end, after the exchange of vows, the Proclamation: And now, by the authority vested in me by the laws of the State of New York, I pronounce you husband and wife. After a bunch of revisions, I had a workable ceremony, and I was ready to go.
Not long after that, my administrative judge transferred a call to me from a prospective bride who told me that she and her husband to be were to be married in an early Saturday evening wedding at the former Windows on the World, at the top of the World Trade Center, a romantic and exciting venue. She had been told that I was an experienced judge (at least at performing weddings), presumably by my administrative judge. I didn’t tell her that this would be my first wedding and assured her that she was in good hands.
We discussed some details. She advised me that this was a “mixed” marriage; she was Jewish and her husband was Gentile. She asked whether I was Jewish. I said yes. She then asked me if I could recite a prayer in Hebrew which would provide some comfort to her family. I told her my Hebrew had deteriorated since my bar mitzvah, but she was not deterred. Then she asked, “How about if it you step on a wine glass at the end of the ceremony? It symbolizes the destruction of the Temple.”
“I think you are trying to turn me into a rabbi,” I said. “I am an arm of the state.”
“Well, O.K.,” she said. “Then you can place it under the groom’s heel and he can break it, even though he’s not Jewish.”
“Suits me,” I said.
On the evening of the wedding, I arrived early, wearing a dark suit and carrying my freshly pressed robe in a garment bag. After taking care of the execution of the license and having a drink and hors d’oeuvres with the guests, we got down to business.
By wedding standards, the wedding wasn’t a large one, maybe 75 to 80 people. There was a short processional. I led the way and stood before a lectern where I thankfully could place the pages of the ceremony and avoid having the assemblage see my trembling fingers.
The ceremony went off flawlessly; the vows were said; the rings were exchanged. I was on a roll. But then, just before the end, before the ringing pronouncement that I now declare you husband and wife by virtue of the authority vested in me by the laws of the State of New York, I improvised, to add a flourish that I didn’t see in any of the ceremonies given to me by my colleagues. Perhaps I remembered it from a B-rated movie.
I said, “Does anyone in this room object to the union of this couple? Speak now or forever hold your peace.” Silence. Not a word of objection. I was prepared to proceed to the finale, when suddenly, through a side entrance, came an obviously inebriated man whom I recognized as the bride’s father, and who had looked none too pleased at the impending marriage during the license-signing ceremony. Now, he was not only displeased, but vocal, casting his obvious venom at the young man standing next to his daughter, yelling in somewhat fractured English embellished by a thick Israeli accent.
“I object,” he thundered as he staggered to one side, at which time he was restrained by several beefy male relatives who bear-hugged him out of the room.
I stood there like a deer caught in the headlights. In a moment after the commotion had subsided, the crowd turned toward me, as did the bride and groom, with expectation.
I recovered, barely. In a voice as firm as I could muster, I declared:
“By the authority vested in me by the laws of the State of New York, as a judge of the Civil Court of the City of New York, I now declare you husband and wife in the eyes of the law.”
As for that other question that prompted the tempest, well, I never, ever asked it again.