Cupid wings his way into courthouse



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Valentine’s Day a busy one for civil marriages.

Tribune Staff Writer
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SOUTH BEND — Richi Sanchez is standing in the same building where men are sometimes sentenced to a lifetime in prison and is about to appear before the judge.

Minutes earlier, Sanchez said he wasn’t nervous. Not now, not on this day.

But now Magistrate Larry Ambler is speaking slowly and deliberately, lines he has said hundreds of times.

“I take you, Constance,” Ambler begins.

Sanchez follows, a line he is saying for the very first time.

“I take you, Constance …”

And so it begins, the traditional wedding vow, the ultimate confession of devotion and love.

“… to be my loving and faithful wife,” Ambler says.

“… to be my loving and faithful wife,” Sanchez says.

On they go.

In good times and bad. In sickness and health. In joy and sadness.

In the quietness of the courtroom, Sanchez forgets a word, a line. But the ever patient Ambler repeats it, and on they go.

Soon, Constance Burns will repeat the same lines back to her husband-to-be.

There will be an exchange of rings. A kiss. Applause from the gathered family and friends.

Ambler instructs the young couple – he in a suit coat, she in a dark blue knee-length dress – to sign the wedding certificate, and suddenly it’s official.

Husband and wife.

Court of love

Today, of course, is Valentine’s Day.

Depending on your perspective it’s the ultimate holiday for romantic love, or a marketing ploy invented by candy and greeting-card companies.

But naysayers should know this: Today, at the St. Joseph County Courthouse, more than a dozen weddings are scheduled, making it one of the busiest wedding days of the year and a testament to the day’s hopeful promise of everlasting love.

Except, of course, for the people who will forget to show up.

Ambler, who has been marrying people as magistrate for the past seven years, says it’s common for “no-shows” at courthouse weddings. He’s come to expect it, he said, as part of the beauty of the arraignment.

“Maybe it’s cold feet, maybe they forgot,” Ambler said.

Unlike the mega weddings that bridal magazines, expo shows and retailers try to set as the standard for today’s nuptials, the courthouse offers something much more important for many couples.

Convenience. Simplicity. Spontaneity.

Ambler says he’s had couples call first thing in the morning, saying they woke up that morning and decided to get married. He’s married couples who came to the courthouse for their marriage license and discovered they could finish the process the same day.

“They’ll call up here and ask if they can be married right now,” Ambler said. “It can take less than 30 minutes for the whole thing.”

Because weddings have to be scheduled around regular courtroom work – trials, sentencing, lawsuits – not all requests can be instantly accommodated. But Ambler admits it’s probably the closest thing to a Las Vegas-style “all night” chapel to be found in South Bend.

“I’ve had people show up in formalwear, I’ve had people show up in shorts,” Ambler said. “I’ve married people in front of 40 or 50 people, but more often when it’s just the couple. You never really know until they show up.”


Heather Lloyd is wearing jeans and a short-sleeved cardigan sweater. Fabian Sanchez is in slacks and a button-down pin-stripped shirt.

Standing in a second-floor courtroom last week, they recited their vows in front of Ambler and one of Fabian’s friends, acting as best man.

Both have been married before, and the thought of a large church wedding just doesn’t make sense.

“We decided to go ahead and get married now, and then to have the reception later, when it’s not so cold and nasty out,” Lloyd said.

Ambler says he doesn’t necessarily ask couple’s reasons for getting in the courthouse, but he knows practicality is often a concern.

“A lot of people tell me they’re getting married now, but that they’re going to have a church wedding later,” Ambler said.

Although he keeps no statistics, Ambler said he marries a lot of “students,” young people who seem like they can’t wait to tie the knot.

“They’re the ones who always say they’re going to have the ceremony later,” Ambler said.

But Ambler admits not all weddings seem to be attended by people madly in love, sometimes even after the act becomes official.

“I received a call from a groom once, a half an hour after the wedding, saying he hadn’t wanted to get married and asking if he could have the papers back,” Ambler said. “But there wasn’t anything I could do. It’s not like with buying a car, there’s no lemon law.”


Despite those sorts of the calls, and the doubt that sometimes comes with marrying people he has just met, Ambler views his role as a love enabler with a bit of optimism.

As far as he knows, Ambler has never had a couple that he has married appear before him in a divorce proceeding.

But odds are it will happen one day.

Ambler said that most days, in his role as magistrate, his mornings can start with a dozen child support or custody hearings, followed by divorce trials.

“I’ll have a trial for ending a marriage, and things can get nasty,” Ambler said. “It’s not a happy environment.”

Then, during his lunch break or an afternoon lull, he’ll stand before two smiling, gushing people, about to pledge their undying devotion.

“That’s the fun part,” Ambler said, and helps to ward off the cynicism his job could bring.

“How long they’ll stay married, who knows?” Ambler said. “But it’s nice to (be in) a little different atmosphere than what I normally deal with.”

Before the ‘I do’

Although he knows of no specific law that forbids it, Ambler said he couldn’t in good conscience marry someone who was inebriated or who clearly didn’t understand what they were about to do.

If he’s uncertain of someone’s understanding before the ceremony, he believes it’s his duty to stop them from getting married.

“If they were under the influence, or if you had someone who didn’t speak English, you want to make sure they understand what they are about to do,” Ambler said.

But really, when it comes to getting married, does anyone fully understand what they are about to do?

Last week, there was no need to ask Richi Sanchez and his bride, Constance Burns, that question, because the answer was in their eyes.

The same for Fabian Sanchez and his bride, Heather Lloyd, who smiled so big after Ambler pronounced them husband and wife, that there was no denying their affection.

It might be at a courthouse. It might be because of convenience, or spontaneity or simplicity. In the end, it might not work out.

But, still, there’s no denying it.

“I’ve never,” Ambler said, “had to tell someone no, that I wouldn’t marry them.

“Not yet.”

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Nothing like the sanctity of marriage Beavis! lol

My wife and I were engaged … when we woke up one morning and decided to speed things up a bit by getting married in the court that day … so that I wouldn’t get deported before the “real” wedding … and it wasn’t until after the wedding that it hit us … I was born in the US … and serving in the Navy … so nobody was going to deport me … unless I was in another country with the Navy and the other country decided to send me back … for like spray painting on the wall like that one dude in Singapore … those folks don’t joke around … you can get a bag of popcorn and a soda … and have a seat to watch them caning these fools out in the open … it’s good times, let me tell ya … we need something like that … and I need a cup of coffee … don’t know what this all means … but have a Happy Valentines Day folks!!!