Michaela Bigelow and Nicholas Passarella, both 21, had a Wine Country wedding this month that they will long remember, even though it was without world-class vineyard views and champagne toasts.
Like some 1,000 couples per year, they opted for a no-frills wedding at the Sonoma County Clerk-Recorder-Assessor’s office in Santa Rosa, where romance is rich and weddings are cheap. A budget-friendly fee of $153 covers a marriage license, a marriage certificate and a brief but sincere civil ceremony.
The Passarellas were married in about five minutes during a Friday afternoon ceremony July 21, sealing their vows and sharing their joy with a passionate kiss.
“It’s a pretty quick ceremony, but we get lots of compliments on it,” said Chief Deputy Clerk-Recorder and Deputy Marriage Commissioner Deva Marie Proto.
“This is the no-fuss wedding. There’s no planning, it’s easy and non-stressful and affordable, and still fun,” she said. “There are lots of emotions. There’s giggles and tears and lots of applause (as unions become official).”
Proto, 36, is among department staffers who perform marriage ceremonies in a private room dubbed the Wedding Room. It’s been open in its current location on Fiscal Drive since early July, when the department moved.
The Wedding Room is an upgraded version of one previously used for civil ceremonies. An outdoor area for ceremonies should be ready sometime in August, pet-friendly and accommodating more guests.
With bench seating for 17 and simple decorations of framed artwork and a few planters with artificial flowers and ferns, the Wedding Room is far from fancy — but nice enough for couples from every walk of life.
Under a trellis draped with a garland of white roses, couples like the Passarellas are joined in union with the same legal authority as those who spend thousands of dollars — or tens of thousands — on elaborate weddings.
Selecting a civil ceremony isn’t always about budgets, though. Even those who can easily afford a fancy wedding declare their love and devotion in the Wedding Room.
“It’s everybody,” Proto said. “We have very young couples and couples in their 80s and 90s, and they’re adorable. We have heterosexual couples and homosexual couples and every race and age group, and I think every income level.”
Ceremonies can be performed in English and Spanish any weekday the county offices are open, with services booked every half hour. That means no weddings on major holidays, but Valentine’s Day, Halloween and New Year’s Eve are in high demand. Dates with repeating numbers — like the recent 7/17/17 — are another big draw for couples seeking an unforgettable anniversary.
For the Passarellas, who met as young teens at a church youth group in Virginia, tying the knot at the county Wedding Room was a convenient way to make their union official. The groom, nearing his promotion as a Petty Officer Third Class, is stationed at the Coast Guard Training Center at Two Rock near Petaluma; his bride is a police officer in North Carolina.
“We didn’t want to do anything big right now because he’s out here,” said Michaela Passarella (taking her husband’s last name), noting the inconvenience and expense of hosting a wedding far from loved ones. Friends and fellow Coast Guard Seamen Caelan Allison, 19, of Colorado, and Austin McElwain, 22, of Florida, were the ceremony witnesses and only invited guests.