Wedding bells ring on Valentine’s Day

Working in the San Mateo County clerk’s office, Theresa Rabe has seen more weddings than many a clergyman.

There were the Halloween nuptials in which the skeleton exchanged vows with the devil as a dozen vampires snapped photos and manned camcorders. She recalls the giddy young bride who alternately giggled and apologized during the ceremony, the senior citizens finally finding love for the first time, couples in formal wear and couples in flip-flops. Rabe has witnessed weddings that have inspired mixed emotions — soldiers tying the knot before going to Iraq and the marriages that seem to have been pushed by the parents.

Though four weddings are performed each day in the clerk’s office, nothing compares with the briskly handled romance of Valentine’s Day — where 17 to 18 ceremonies are performed — one every half-hour.

“There’s definitely a different air among our staff that day. We bring in flowers and we try to do it right,” Rabe said.

On Thursday, 35-year-old engineer Chris Lamb and 24-year-old caregiver Therese Espejo prepared to tie the knot on their one-year anniversary. The pair wanted to get married on Valentine’s Day and before a pressing deadline — Espejo’s March 6 due date.

The pair is planning another ceremony in Espejo’s native Philippines after their baby is born. Crowding into a small chapel that connects to the clerk’s office, 10 relatives looked on as retired Pacific Bell worker-turned-volunteer deputy marriage commissioner Eunice Brabac officiated.

Espejo’s aunt Lyn Villamonte, who works with Lamb at Electronic Arts and introduced the pair, was beaming.

“I feel like I’ve given them their fate. They’re so happy,” said Villamonte, who joked that she is considering a career change to matchmaker.

San Mateo County offers a unique service to its betrothed couples — the ability to film and broadcast their ceremony over the Internet to friends and family around the world. The wedding cam has brought local ceremonies to Botswana, the Netherlands and Uruguay, to name only a few countries.

“I remember a 50-year-old man being married for the first time. His mother lived in the South and was ill. She viewed it on a neighbor’s computer and sent us a thank-you note for allowing her to see her son’s wedding,” Rabe said.

Following a national trend, marriages in San Mateo County are declining. In 2001, about 4600 marriage licenses were issued. In 2003, approximately 3,800 couples got married in San Mateo County and last year, 3,465 licenses were issued, according to the county clerk’s office.

tbarak@examiner.com

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