By John Chambless
Love was in bloom – for the 300th time – in Judge Matthew Seavey's courtroom on Nov. 27. As Cesar Vinalay Nava and Mirna Nava Luna took their vows in Avondale District Court, their family members stood in the courtroom to witness the 15-minute ceremony that united them as husband and wife.
Seavey, who started performing weddings in 2010, said, “This is truly the best part of my job. The weddings just make my day.”
The milestone number kind of snuck up on Seavey, but his longtime friend, David Owens, wanted to make sure that the day didn't pass unnoticed. Owens, who is the chairman of the Board of Supervisors in London Britain Township, was in the courtoom for the weddings of couples No. 299 and 300 last week.
“I was telling Matt that the only time we see him is when something really bad happens,” Owens said before the ceremonies began. “I was kind of teasing him about doing these marriages, but we started keeping track of them. He said he'd call us when he got to 300, but it's taken all summer and fall for these last few weddings.”
Finally, on a cold and rainy Wednesday afternoon, couple No. 300 and their family and friends arrived in the courtroom. Dressed up and looking happy but nervous, they stood in front of Seavey's bench and listened carefully as he performed the ceremony and the office manager translated each portion into Spanish.
Seavey said weddings can be arranged for any day he's in the courtroom, and he's seen just about every kind of couple. “I'll let them do whatever they want to do, as long as it's within the law," he said, smiling. "Some just come in on their lunch breaks, and there are other times when you have a whole wedding party. Some people bring their dogs in. We have military people that come through. Sometimes they're shipping out and they want to get married.”
Seavey admitted he was nervous when he performed his first ceremony, but now he tries to put the couple and their families at ease. If there are young people at a wedding, he offers to let them sit in his chair and hold his gavel for a photo.
“I try to get people comfortable," he said. "I make a couple jokes sometimes. I try to feel the bride and groom out, to see how they feel. Sometimes they're in here and sweating bullets. Other times they're not. I try to make it as comfortable as possible for them.”
Seavey performed a marriage recently that was live-streamed to Brazil, and once did another that was streamed to France, so that faraway relatives could see the ceremonies.
“When I see the grooom get teary, you know it's something special,” he said.
The court supplies a witness if necessary, and they take care of the paperwork, issuing an official marriage license to each couple as they leave. After so many weddings, Seavey said he remembers a few of the couples. Many more, he said, remember him.
“People come up to me in the store and ask, 'Do you remember us?' And I do remember most of them,” he said. “I do a lot of weddings throughout the county. I ask where people are from sometimes if I don't know them. Some of them say they're from West Chester, but they heard I do weddings here. Through talking to other judges, though, I know they don't do as many weddings as I do.”
Since most of his job involves seeing people at their worst moments, Seavey said that performing the weddings keeps things interesting – and he never knowing how subdued or spectacular each one will be until the family comes through the door.
“I had a couple who were in their 80s, and each of their significant others had died, so they got married," Seavey said. "It was fun. This really is the best part of my job.”