“I DO!” Couples take the fast lane to marriage at county courthouse despite COVID-19 restrictions

They promised to be honest, committed, faithful and stay together through the best and the worst. 

Getting married in your car during a global pandemic might not sound like a dream wedding, but more than 30 couples signed up to take their vows on April 30th at the drive-thru window at the south side of the Alachua County Family and Civil Courthouse in Downtown Gainesville. 

Clerk of the Court J.K. “Jess” Irby, decided that just because the courthouse was off limits for proceedings and events due to the COVID-19 pandemic, that people should not delay getting married. 

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So he decided to open up the defunct drive-thru window that’s been closed since 2003.

“We do about 500 weddings a year,” Irby said about weddings at the courthouse. “I average about 300.”

Irby said the idea came to him when he realized that weddings for committed couples were being cancelled.

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“When there’s something fun and people love each other and their making that commitment, I wanted to be there for them,” Irby said.

The drive thru was decorated with Las Vegas style signs deeming it the “Tunnel of Love.” There were flowers and flowing streams of white ribbon and bows perched on bright orange safety cones lining the path to the window. At the exit, a giant “Just Married” sign and flowers were attached to a STOP sign.

And at 5 p.m. on April 30th, vehicles were already lined up. “I’ll be here till midnight,” Irby said at the start. “This should be fun.”

Francis Willis, 78, and Chester Allen, 91 of Newberry were the first couple to pull up and hand over $30 for the ceremony fee.

“We were waiting for the courthouse to open to get married,” Willis said. And when she found out about the drive-thru wedding service, Willis told the clerk’s assistant, “Are you kidding? And she put our name down and we were the first ones!”

Willis and Allen met in 2002 at church in Hague. “We use to sing at church together,” Willis said. And after their spouses passed away, they became a couple.

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After a 5 minute exchange of vows and wedding rings, the couple smooched and drove off just as a skateboarder passed by playing “The Wedding Song” over his speaker for them.

Each couple who came through the drive-thru was given a bouquet of flowers courtesy Keith Watson Events and cupcakes crafted by Amanda Bowers of Baker Baker.

Family members of Alix Mathia, 28, and Billy Knowles, 29, of Gainesville stood on sidewalks across the street holding up signs. One read, “Congrats !!!! Billy & Alix Knowles, Love You!!”

Alix said they were staying at the Sweetwater Honeymoon Cottage just around the corner after the ceremony.

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“We were planning on getting married in December,” the bride said. “And with everything happening, we just realized what was important,” she said about forgoing a lavish wedding.

One couple decked out in vintage garb arrived in a lime green 1959 Volkswagen Van, others wore traditional gowns and tuxedos or comfortable blue jeans.

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Vows were exchanged, rings were placed on fingers and kisses sealed the occasion. And most of the couples said their honeymoon plans are on hold, for now. 

Another round of weddings will be officiated by Clerk of the Court J.K. “Jess” Irby, Esq. on May 14th at 5 p.m. Call 352-374-3623 to schedule an approximate time.

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