Standing before a white, floral-bedecked wedding arch, William and Amy Hovanic clasped hands as they gazed into each other’s eyes. The 29-year-old groom wore a dark sport coat over a black T-shirt, his 22-year-old bride looking demure in a knee-length, navy blue lace dress and black Converse high tops.
After the usual “I do’s,” Judge Paul Murakami pronounced them husband and wife. A kiss at the end of the five- minute ceremony sealed the deal and moments later they were on their way out the door of Hawaii Civil Marriage in Kakaako.
The Hovanics were one of five couples to appear Friday for a walk-in wedding at the business’s unassuming, street-level office on Halekauwila Street, where every weekday from noon to 1 p.m. nuptials are performed in a matter of minutes by an active or retired state judge — no appointment necessary.
For 30 years Chickie Guillaume has run Hawaii Civil Marriage, which at one time was located in the Family Court waiting room, providing for some awkward mingling between couples seeking divorce and those headed to the altar. The fee is $80; couples also can book 5:45 p.m. weekday weddings for $100 and Saturday ceremonies for $125, both by appointment only, or hire a judge for a location of their choosing.
Every couple who uses Guillaume’s services — 1,200 last year — has a singular love story but they all go there for the same reason: “Because it’s easy and you don’t have to make arrangements, you have no hard work to do at all,” she said. “It’s just getting your marriage license, the payment and you’re set to go.”
Friday’s wedding was a do-over for the Hovanics, who are both in the Air Force and first got married in 2016 at a courthouse in Virginia. William Hovanic blames himself for their brief divorce in November, saying, “I had to figure some things out with myself.”
Their romance quickly rekindled and, according to Amy, “I had to let him back in when he said, ‘I wanna get back again.’”
Convenience and wanting “to do it by ourselves again” was what brought them to Hawaii Civil Marriage, the groom said.
“All our families are back on the mainland and it’s kind of hard to get them out here. And we heard they have a lot of good people here and they’re real professional,” he said.
Guillaume’s customers include military couples like the Hovanics and others who may not have family in Hawaii, people who have been married before and don’t want to make a fuss, and those who prefer a nonreligious ceremony. Many want to get the formalities out of the way to resolve pressing legal issues or visa requirements, or for other pragmatic reasons, but still plan on having a ceremony or reception at a later date with family and friends.
Valentine’s Day used to be a popular date to get married, Guillaume said, but not so much anymore as couples want their “own day” to celebrate their love. However, Lunar New Year and dates considered lucky in Chinese culture remain desirable.
That was the case for newlyweds Kevin Eckert, 31, and Chun Feng Wang, 39, who also got married Friday at Hawaii Civil Marriage. The pair met two years ago while hiking on Koko Crater when Wang, a visitor from Washington, D.C., found herself unable to finish the trek and good Samaritan Eckert offered to piggy-back her down the mountain.
“He’s so handsome and strong. It’s a real love story,” Wang said.
Once they decided to tie the knot, she was determined to find an auspicious date for the occasion, did some calculations and picked Friday.
“The stars aligned and we had to get married on that date, and there wasn’t enough time to plan a wedding,” said Eckert, a criminologist with the Honolulu Police Department.
Stuart and Silvia Melendy weren’t planning a same-day ceremony when they went to the state Department of Health to obtain a marriage license Tuesday. After discovering they would be leaving with the document, the couple headed straight for Hawaii Civil Marriage.
Stuart Melendy, 54, a merchant mariner with Matson, met his 33-year-old Colombian bride online in 2017 and a few months later visited her native country to meet her family. Because he travels so much for his job and the clock was ticking on her visa, they decided “to get the ball rolling” and get married, he said.
The couple live in Kapahulu with Stuart’s 13-year-old son, who shares his first name, and Silvia’s 9-year-old son Matias.
“This is the easy part,” he said with a broad smile while hugging his new wife after the couple exchanged vows before Judge Allene Suemori. “It’s what happens after this that’s important.”
Sitting on a bench waiting their turn Tuesday were Akesa and Maaele Maaele Jr. of Kaneohe, who have known each other for more than 40 years. Akesa, 74, was previously married and has five children, while Maaele Maaele, 72, was a bachelor.
“Just last year we planned to get married,” he chuckled. “I don’t like staying single; I like get married.”
Standing under the wedding arch, lei draped around their necks, Maaele Maaele giggled softly as Suemori asked him if he would have Akesa as his lawfully wedded wife, live together with her in the honorable estate of marriage, love and honor her, cherish and protect her in good and bad times, stand by her and share her joys and sorrows, and promise to be her best friend for as long as they both shall live.
He answered with a resolute, “I do.” Family members steadied the couple as they exchanged rings, and when it was over, Akesa broke into tears.
She explained afterward that her children weren’t particularly pleased that she was remarrying, but “I love this man. I want a happy life.”
“They tell us we’re too old to get married, no, I say we’re still young yet,” Maaele Maaele said.
The idea of a “take a number” wedding might seem antithetical to romance, but it can be an intimate affair, often with just the couple and a judge in the sparsely furnished room and no distractions. Before each of Friday’s ceremonies, Murakami carefully posed the bride and groom so they would face each other at the exact center of the wedding arch; when they were done he snapped photos of the newlyweds with their phones.
Guillaume relies on a rotation of nine or 10 judges, some of whom perform weddings on their lunch break from the courthouse down the street. “The judges take it real seriously. It’s very personal,” she said.
Murakami, a Family Court judge whose cases include bitter family disputes, referred to his side gig at Hawaii Civil Marriage as “therapy.”
“I love to do weddings; everybody’s happy,” except maybe the guy whose bride had cold feet and ran out of the ceremony last year. “It was the one bad situation since I’ve been doing this for 20-plus years,” Murakami said.
“If you talk to family or civil judges, at least 50 percent of their cases are not happy. With these, everyone is smiling, it’s a good time. Even though they’re standing in a line, I try to make the moment their moment; this is their time, as short as it may be.”
With as many weddings as Guillaume’s handled over three decades, she said it still warms her heart when couples emerge from the ceremony room newly joined in matrimony.
“It’s such a happy side of life to see, because you’re seeing someone as they’re starting their first moments of marriage, even if they come by themselves.”