Originally created 02/10/02

Civil wedding



ATHENS, Ga. - The first thing Athens-Clarke County Magistrate Judge Michael Coleman did when he took office 13 years ago had nothing to do with setting bond or signing off on a warrant.

He imposed life sentences on two friends.

At least that's the way Judge Coleman jokingly describes what has become a favorite part of his job - uniting couples in marriage. But performing marriage ceremonies is something the judge doesn't take lightly. In fact, the couple Judge Coleman married as his first official act inspired him to develop a ceremony that goes well beyond the simple "Do you take ...?" needed to get the job done.

"It was kind of a wedding present to them," Judge Coleman said.

The ceremony blends references from the "love chapter" in the Bible, I Corinthians 13, with a quote from Matthew Arnold and an adapted quote from Bertrand Russell. While the biblical reference brings Judge Coleman's ceremony close to the church-state separation issue, he is keenly aware that presiding over marriage ceremonies is not a religious function for him.

"My commission is a civil commission, and not a religious one," he said.

Still, he says, his personal views on the serious commitment that marriage represents seemed to mandate that he treat that part of his job with some gravity of purpose.

Athens-Clarke County's other magistrate, Judge Patricia Barron celebrated her first anniversary as a magistrate judge Friday, and the day included presiding over the marriage of 29-year-old Adrian Lowrance and 23-year-old Meredith Ayers. Mr. Lowrance, an information technology specialist at Oliver Rubber in Athens, and Ms. Ayers, an accounting student at Athens Tech, had been dating for a year.

They chose a civil service because they just didn't want to spend a lot of money on a fancy wedding.