Clerk of the peace: Have robe, will travel

The show must go on for Sussex official
Four couples and some of their relatives gather for a group hug following a Nov. 30 joint wedding ceremony in the Sussex County administration building's county council chambers. BY RON MACARTHUR
December 10, 2013

Adorned in a black robe, he's trudged over sand dunes, braved a nor'easter and hiked through the woods. It's all in a day's work for Sussex County Clerk of the Peace John Brady.

One afternoon last week, he married a couple in the Dogfish Head Brewery tasting room and then wed a couple at Nage Restaurant. In between, he threw in another wedding ceremony in Georgetown. And that was an easy day.

On Nov. 30, he performed nine ceremonies, including one ceremony for four, same-sex couples. “Nine to 10 ceremonies a day is about my limit,” Brady says.

Mailmen don't let snow stop them from their appointed rounds, but Brady can easily top that. Not even an automobile crash could stop him. With three ceremonies scheduled, his assistant covered the first two and he turned up – after a trip to the hospital – for the final wedding. “I didn't have a tie, and my shirt was torn, but you didn't notice it under the robe,” he said. “The show must go on.”

To Brady, a lawyer who has also served as Sussex County Recorder of Deeds and Register in Chancery, even with a tough schedule, the job has taken on new meaning. “This is by far the best elected office job I've ever had,” he said.


Influx of same-sex marriages

The passage of Delaware House Bill 75 set off a wave of Sussex marriages. The law allows same-gender civil marriages and also allows the conversion of all civil unions to marriages. Civil unions were permitted in Delaware for less than two years before HB 75 was passed.

Since the law went into effect July 1, more than 530 couples have been wed by the Sussex County Clerk of the Peace staff. That's an increase of at least 25 percent, Brady said. That includes more than 50 no-fee ceremonies for people in the military, he said.

In the past six months, the office has officiated at 401 in-office ceremonies – including locations around The Circle in Georgetown – and 133 out-of-office weddings. About 60 percent of the ceremonies were for same-sex couples. The office has also converted 161 civil unions to civil marriages.

Since July 1, the Sussex office has issued just about as many same-sex marriage licenses as it has issued to male-female couples. Of the more than 1,330 marriage licenses issued since July 1, 707 were issued to male-female couples, 345 to female couples and 283 to male couples. Marriage licenses are issued to all couples – not just those who use the clerk of the peace – who plan to marry in Delaware. Licenses – valid for 30 days – from Kent and New Castle counties are good for ceremonies in Sussex.

The office has generated more than 2,100 transactions in six months compared to 2,450 in all of fiscal 2013. Transactions are any work taking place in the office with a fee attached, Brady said.

Agree or disagree with the concept of same-sex marriage, one fact is irrevocably true: marriage means money to Sussex coffers. Revenue generated by the office in six months has already surpassed the entire amount generated in fiscal year 2013 and is on pace to top $250,000 in fiscal 2014. That increase prompted Brady to joke he plans to ask for a four-wheeler for those treks in the woods in next year's budget.


Beaches are drawing card for ceremonies

Weekends are usually working days for Brady and his staff, which includes Deputy Clerk of the Peace Annie Besche and Barbara Eaton. He conducted at least 80 weddings over the summer along the Sussex coastline at every beach from Fenwick Island to Slaughter Beach and Primehook Beach. It's not unusual to find a ceremony taking place on The Circle across from the marriage bureau in downtown Georgetown.

Brady said one of the strangest places he's conducted a wedding ceremony was in the back of a pick-up truck. He's also officiated at a ceremony in Greenwood where the bride and groom rode to the event on their horses inside an arena. In one week last summer, he performed three different ceremonies within one block in the Sawgrass South development near Rehoboth Beach.

One of the prettiest locations he's conducted a ceremony is at James Farm Preserve near Ocean View. “But it's about a mile walk,” he said.

Backyards, front porches, hotel rooms and restaurants are also popular locations.

He said a wedding at Delaware Seashore State Park went on in spite of a nor'easter. “Most people watched from vehicles,” he said. “It was a very quick ceremony.”

He said he's surprised that he hasn't conducted a ceremony on a boat, yet he did come close this past summer. “A couple wanted me to do a ceremony during the Lewes July 4th boat parade, but they got to me too late. I've not left land yet, but it could happen this summer,” he said.

Brady said the unexpected number of ceremonies has forced him to confront taking time off. “The concept of taking vacation time is something I'm working on,” he said.

Brady said, surprisingly, he's only performed two joint ceremonies, including one Nov. 30 with four female couples from Lancaster, Pa. The four couples, who were all friends, said their home state was missing out on revenue not only from the ceremony, but also money they spent in Sussex County on lodging, food and shopping.

Out-of-state couples pay double the Delaware resident fee for all clerk of the peace services. An in-office ceremony for a nonresident couple costs $200; for a resident couple it's $100.


Sussex is becoming a wedding destination

Sixteen states and Washington, D.C., recognize same-sex marriages.

Brady said the county charges less and has a waiting period of 24 hours – shorter than most other states offering same-sex marriages. He said the fastest wedding he's performed was just one minute beyond the 24-hour waiting period. “We issued the license at 1:35 p.m. and they got married at 1:36 p.m. the next day,” he said.

Same-sex couples from southern states without the option are finding a haven in Sussex County. “We are seeing more and more couples from states like Virginia and North Carolina,” he said, adding he's penciled in a Florida couple's wedding in June.

The schedule for January and February is starting to fill up. “The first 90 days of the new law we saw a big influx of same-sex weddings, but now couples are waiting for a day that means something to them,” he said.

“My new slogan is – Sussex County: Your wedding destination,” Brady said.




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