Emily Holder and Margaret Baier of Minneapolis have been together for 23 years, but they never made any serious plans to marry until last week.

“For most of those years, marriage wasn’t a legal option,” Holder said.

But with Hennepin County judges offering to marry couples for free on Valentine’s Day, they made a quick decision that it was finally time.

“No more messing around,” Holder said. “Let’s just have two days to think about it and quick get it together and do what we’ve been wanting to do.”

Twenty-eight couples in all said “I do” Wednesday in the bustling atrium of the Hennepin County Government Center in downtown Minneapolis, tying the knot with the assistance of 13 district court judges who volunteered for the popular annual event.

“Let’s get married,” said Judge William Koch to the crowd of couples, witnesses and curious passersby.

Having a role in a couple’s marriage is “magical,” said Judge Lois Conroy, who has participated in the Valentine’s Day wedding ceremonies every year since the county began them in 2013.

“I am so honored to be here celebrating with these couples,” she said.

Before this week, Johnika Wiley of Minneapolis had some specific ideas about her wedding. That all changed when she found out she was pregnant. That’s how she found herself Wednesday standing next to Tre’zjaun Sims and listening to Judge Kathryn Quaintance — on break from a murder trial — as she presided over their vows.

“My baby’s kicking a lot,” Wiley said. “I think maybe she’s just excited like me.”

A larger ceremony will be held for family later on, Wiley said. But for now the couple wanted a smaller, intimate ceremony — notwithstanding the office workers looking down from atrium windows above.

Erika and Derek Sibrel, stumbled across the opportunity when Erika was applying for a wedding license online. Although the couple has plans for a ceremony in Mexico in two months, both their fathers traveled from Wyoming for the event. It got the legal process out of the way, Erika said.

After 20 years of friendship and 10 years as partners, Cardina Esparza married Thomas Draskovic,. Despite her nerves, Esparza said she was excited to get married on her favorite holiday and appreciated how simple it was.

It’s possible that the judges may enjoy the event even more than the newlyweds do.

“We rarely get to be a part of joyous moments in court,” Conroy said. “And what can be happier than being there on that first day?”

 

Kelly Busche is a University of Minnesota student on assignment for the Star Tribune.