Cupid helps tie the knot for Tampa Bay couples despite tight budgets

NEW PORT RICHEY — In a knee-length white dress and matching veil, Alexandra Sinsabaugh stood inside the park's gazebo.

Sinsabaugh, 19, smiled at her fiance as they held hands and joined five other couples speaking their vows.

"I give you my love this day and always, for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, for as long as we both shall live."

On Saturday morning at Jay B. Starkey Wilderness Park, six couples wed during a group ceremony on Cupid's holiday. Family and friends crowded the gazebo's boardwalk, hoisting digital cameras in the air to snap shots of the newlywed couples.

The ceremony took just seven minutes and was conducted by Paula O'Neil, Pasco's clerk of the courts and comptroller. In honor of Valentine's Day, O'Neil waived the $30 marriage ceremony fee.

Sinsabaugh and husband, Steven Lewin, 30, say cost cutting was part of their decision to wed on Valentine's Day and have a family get-together afterward to celebrate.

"It definitely helps, because it's rough times," said Lewin, a truck driver from Port Richey. "It's a lots cheaper. Otherwise, we were going to do the Las Vegas deal."

Their decision follows a trend wedding planners and county clerk's offices have noticed over the past few years: A crippled economy has forced some couples to forgo dreams of a lavish wedding with hundreds of guests.

Instead of forking over wads of money for tuxedos, bridesmaids dresses and floral arrangements, engaged couples are finding solace in another alternative — heading to the courthouse to get hitched.

Some advantages: A courthouse ceremony takes just a few minutes. And the cost pales in comparison to the thousands of dollars some couples spend on items like tuxedos and flowers for a traditional wedding.

In addition to the marriage ceremony fee, it's $93.50 for a marriage license in the state of Florida. Couples have 60 days after they receive their license to use it.

O'Neil, elected in the fall, said the free Valentine's Day ceremony is something she wanted to do in Pasco after hearing Pinellas county did the same.

"I wanted to start some new traditions as clerk," she said.

• • •

Hillsborough and Hernando counties have not been offering free weddings on Valentine's Day, although getting married at the courthouse to save money is definitely something that's been happening more often, said Shannon Lee, an office assistant to Hillsborough County Clerk of Courts Pat Frank.

"Either that, or they're doing a civil ceremony now and waiting to do (a big wedding) later," Lee said.

While courthouse ceremonies are a financial advantage for local government, one sector of the marriage business is suffering as a result of the trend: wedding planners.

Jennifer Fitzsimmons, a wedding planner who owns Friend of the Bride in Tampa, said she normally performs 40 weddings a year. Now, she's down to 25 to 30.

In addition to couples opting to get married at courthouses, Fitzsimmons said couples are trimming all the fat they can from their guest lists, or choosing to marry at a courthouse and use the bulk of their budget for a fun-filled reception.

"Even when the economy was good, people would rather put money in other parts of their budget," she said. "I think it's happening more now because of the economy."

• • •

On Saturday, most couples decided to forgo wedding attire in favor of red and white outfits in honor of Valentine's Day. One bride wore a wedding dress. A few men wore dark suits.

Stephanie Baumann, 36, and Bill Gatlin, 43, of Holiday heard about Saturday's ceremony on TV, and decided they would tie the knot after 14 years together.

"We're just having a house party (afterward)," Gatlin said. "It's cheaper."

Laura Redden, 30 and George LaBolt, 39, of Hudson found each other on an online social networking site after they had dated and then lost touch for 10 years.

Two weeks after reuniting, they stood in the gazebo and recited their vows.

The biggest advantage of the wedding ceremony?

"We'll never forget our anniversary," Redden said.

Camille C. Spencer can be reached at cspencer@sptimes.com or (813) 909-4609.

Going to the courthouse and they're going to get married

In some counties in the Tampa Bay area, the struggling economy has increased the number of couples who are choosing to wed at local county courthouses. Here's a look at the number of marriage licenses issued and ceremonies performed at area courthouses:



HERNANDO COUNTYHILLSBOROUGH COUNTYPASCO COUNTYPINELLAS COUNTY
Marriage licenses issuedCeremonies

performed
Marriage licenses issuedCeremonies

performed
Marriage licenses issuedCeremonies

performed
Marriage licenses issuedCeremonies

performed
2005 1,01021910,4082,4922,5875467,5431,681
200696826110,2292,6262,8645967,3241,757
20079552259,8852,7352,7055597,3041,607
20089492499,5682,7992,7236496,8421,644
HERNANDO COUNTYHILLSBOROUGH COUNTYPASCO COUNTYPINELLAS COUNTY
Marriage licenses issuedCeremonies

performed
Marriage licenses issuedCeremonies

performed
Marriage licenses issuedCeremonies

performed
Marriage licenses issuedCeremonies

performed
2005 1,01021910,4082,4922,5875467,5431,681
200696826110,2292,6262,8645967,3241,757
20079552259,8852,7352,7055597,3041,607
20089492499,5682,7992,7236496,8421,644



Sources: circuit clerk's offices in Pinellas, Pasco, Hillsborough and Hernando counties

Cupid helps tie the knot for Tampa Bay couples despite tight budgets 02/14/09 [Last modified: Saturday, February 14, 2009 10:03pm]

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