Most wedding ceremonies reflect century-old traditions, but the adventurous can add a twist to make the occasion unforgettable.
On the eve of Valentine's Day, Judge Robert Fairchild stood in his Douglas County courtroom facing Charity and Rik Tebe.
The Lawrence couple alternately breathed deep and smiled broadly, betraying frayed nerves.
The judge addressed everyone in court before posing simple questions to the two. Satisfied with their answers and not hearing objections from witnesses, Fairchild took pleasure in pronouncing them husband and wife.
``Congratulations,'' said Fairchild, before turning to the groom. ``You're going to get shot if you ever forget Valentine's Day.''
Tears of joy flowed from Mrs. Tebe.
``I should have brought a tissue,'' she said.
The Tebes' entrance into nuptial bliss was traditional in the sense that it was among 700 marriages in Douglas County and 20,000 in Kansas performed annually by an authorized ``somebody,'' meaning a judge or member of the clergy.
Didn't have to be that way.
In this state, unofficial freelancers can convene a couple and marry them based on state law covering domestic relations -- specifically, K.S.A. 23-104a.
That statute says a bride and groom ``by mutual declarations ... may be married without an authorized officiating person.''
Possibilities are endless for breaking the routine, knee-buckling wedding atmosphere detailed in glossy bridal magazines.
For example, consider inviting a local celebrity to stand before a couple and marry them. Are Jayhawk coaches Terry Allen or Roy Williams interested in part-time, off-season employment?
Or hire a comedian. A humorist might break the ice by explaining that all marriages are happy. Adding: ``It's the living together afterward that's rough.''
The jester could tell assembled family and friends about the groom calling around town in search of a wedding locale.
``Hi,'' the guy says to a priest. ``I was thinking of getting married in your church and I was wondering if I had to hold any specific religious views?''
``Yes, you do.''
``How many? Two? Three? Four?''
Change of scenery
That's not the kind of environment the Rev. Art Donnelly, interim pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Lawrence, entered about 35 years ago when he presided at his first wedding.
``Very formal,'' he said.
Not a frequent reader of law books, he assumed people officiating at Kansas weddings still had to be certified by a court clerk on the state's behalf.
"I was under the impression we have to register our credentials,'' Donnelly said.
No more, thanks to irreverent souls in the tumultuous 1960s who helped break the state's grip on rules restricting who could conduct wedding services.
Newfangled religious organizations had started ordaining anyone by mail for free -- no education or expertise required. One of these groups approved more than 1 million applicants nationwide. A few had pets ordained.
Initially, public officials tried to establish standards that would weed out these ``illegitimate'' clergy. That proved more or less futile, opening up the system to a whole new breed of officiates.
Kansas wedding quirks
State law also speaks to a couple of other unusual marriage scenarios.
Weddings can legally occur in Kansas without the presence of a bride or groom. The state is among the few that allows marriage by ``proxy.'' If a bride or groom can't personally attend the ceremony, perhaps due to imprisonment or military service, a substitute may fill in.
How about marriage without a wedding? Kansas is among a minority of states that recognize common-law marriages in which a man and woman hold themselves out to the public as husband and wife. That can be accomplished by using the same name, filing a joint tax return, holding joint bank accounts and other means. Time is not a factor in establishing a common-law marriage.
In fact, Charity and Rik Tebe, a couple for five years, had a common-law marriage before 5:02 p.m. Friday.
``We're doing this to get the legal documentation,'' Mrs. Tebe said.
One state law that has stood the test of time requires couples who want a marriage ceremony in Kansas to obtain a license. Applicants need to be 18 years old or have consent of a parent, guardian or judge. One person -- bride or groom -- can fill out the application. There's no blood test.
Cost of the license is $50 cash, payable when the license is picked up at the district court clerk's office.
There's a three-day, cooling-off period before the granting of a license to accommodate couples who may have let emotions run wild.
To accommodate folks with cold feet on the Big Day, a license is good for six months after issuance.
You'll need two witnesses.
Tradition still rules
The Rev. Virgil Brady of First United Methodist Church has performed hundreds of weddings during his 15-year career in Lawrence.
He said most people didn't entertain the possibility of asking a ``nobody'' to officiate. Tradition dominates, he said, regardless of the law.
He estimated more than 90 percent of weddings in Douglas County were handled by religious leaders. A church linkage is important even to people who don't belong to a congregation, he said.
"It adds a dimension to the marriage,'' Brady said. ``They are surrounded by the faith community.''
The unorthodox wedding may come more into vogue when Princess Cruises goes to sea in May with the world's largest cruise ship. Sandwiched between a casino and a nine-hole putting green is a 60-seat wedding chapel.
The ship's captain will be available to brides and grooms willing to part with $1,400 to $2,400 for a floating ceremony.
Brady doesn't assess a wedding fee to members of his congregation. Donnelly's custom is not to charge anyone, upholding a legacy that began when he was married for free in 1954.
Consequently, none has found reason to consider the possibility of independent operators challenging them for wedding turf.
``I'm not worrying about it,'' Donnelly said.
-- Tim Carpenter's phone message number is 832-7155. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.