It’s Opening Day at the Manhattan Marriage Bureau
Even before the Manhattan Marriage Bureau in Lower Manhattan reopened on Friday for the first time since closing 15 months ago because of the pandemic, the team manager there, Michael McSweeney, said he expected “a decent-size, noisy crowd.”
“My team has been preparing for this day for months, so I’m very excited,” Mr. McSweeney, 53, said from the executive bullpen inside the city clerk’s office, often referred to as City Hall. “As with any opening day, there’s always excitement, but there’s always a lot of anxiety as well.”
Tali Agai and her fiancé, Kyle Eisenman, were among the couples anxiously awaiting for the doors to open at 8:45 a.m. The couple, who met on the dating site Tinder seven years ago when both were living in Washington D.C., have had to change their wedding plans twice because of the coronavirus.
“We are more than ready to be married,” said Mr. Eisenman, 34. He and Ms. Agai, 35, will celebrate their union at the Prospect Park Boathouse in Brooklyn this weekend.
Since Mr. McSweeney became city clerk in 2009 (he also holds the title clerk of the council), he has managed a full roster of unionized civil servants who are the lifeline of the Manhattan Marriage Bureau, which, because of the pandemic, shuttered its doors at 141 Worth Street in Lower Manhattan in March 2020.
These men and women shepherd thousands of couples a year to and through a process that could, without proper assistance, feel as grinding as a trip to a motor vehicle’s office.
“There’s been some talk that the mayor will be here,” said Mr. Sweeney, whose home in the Woodside section of Queens is just a short fly ball from Citi Field, home of his beloved Mets baseball team in Flushing, Queens.
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“Like many others, the mayor got excited on Monday when we opened up a reservation functionality on our website,” Mr. Sweeney continued. The move was a signal: Finally, “people could go on the site and book a reservation to come here for appointments for marriage licenses or wedding ceremonies starting today,” he said.
Two of those people were Annie O’Toole and her fiancé, Neil Champagne, who met on the dating app Hinge in November 2017, and who had made it their business to be at the marriage bureau on opening day.
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“It feels like we’ve been together 30 years, but in a good way,” said Mr. Champagne, 36, who has been dating Ms. O’Toole, 33, for three and a half years.
In the months leading up to a physical opening day, Mr. McSweeney’s team has helped perfect a virtual system for distributing marriage licenses, and another for virtual weddings. They have also been involved with everything from creating an office cleaning schedule, monitoring their ventilation system and installing plexiglass in all open-counter areas to shield against germs.
Virtual weddings were a (relatively) short-lived phenomenon: They existed in New York from April 2020 through June 2021, when Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo lifted the executive order he had issued allowing couples to be married online.
Still, day-to-day in-person business at the Manhattan Marriage Bureau has changed.
Before the pandemic “it was first-come, first-served, and anyone could walk through the door,” Mr. McSweeney said. “But now we keep a list at the front door with the names of 100 couples on it, and if your name is not on the list, you will not be allowed to enter.”
One of the most recognizable changes involves the elimination of wedding parties that often accompany couples to their civil ceremonies. (“That rule sort of takes away from the whole idea of celebration,” Mr. Eisenman said. “They might have to rethink that one.”)
The new rule states that every couple can bring along only one witness. “We would get stretch limousines pulling up in front of the building and dropping off 10 or maybe 12 very well-dressed people at a time,” Mr. McSweeney said. “It’s tough to accept, but many things have changed, and there’s a very good reason as to why.”
He then pointed out some of the things at 141 Worth Street that have remained the same. “Marriage licenses are still $35,” Mr. McSweeney said, “and wedding ceremonies still cost $25.”
“And there’s usually a hot dog vendor right outside the door,” he added. “I’ve seen some people come in here, sit on a bench and eat their hot dogs while watching the proceedings. It’s almost as if they were at a ballgame or something.”
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