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Following a destination wedding in Costa Rica last year, Thomas and Klee Baxter planned an official wedding back home in San Mateo County.
Klee is Cambodian and the couple wanted a traditional Cambodian-style wedding here, which is where they planned to get their wedding license.
But before the wedding could take place earlier this year, COVID-19 hit, which is why in late May the couple became one of the first in the county to be married via video conferencing.
“It was a unique and new experience, which is what life is all about,” Klee Baxter said.
Marriage license applications and wedding ceremonies are now available through video conferencing in San Mateo County, but launching the service wasn’t exactly an easy walk to the altar.
In late April, Gov. Gavin Newsom issued an emergency order allowing online weddings, but the announcement left county officials and future brides and grooms scrambling to figure out the logistics.
From online security challenges to record keeping, there was a long list of obstacles.
“We’ve received over 100 calls since shelter-in-place asking how and where people can go to get married,” said Jim Irizarry of the San Mateo County Clerk-Recorder’s Office.
Marriages in California require in-person verification and signatures, which left many county officials across the state in a tough bind.
“We didn’t have a public-facing window outside our facility, (which hampered) the ability to go to a window to verify,” Irizarry said. Instead, the county turned to teleconferences as the legal equivalent of “in person.”
Meanwhile, amid all the uncertainty, the Baxters felt a special sense of urgency about completing their marriage.
“I have two kids and we want to start an adoption, and we didn’t want to be in a situation with us not being legally married,” Klee said. “We want to make sure our kids are safe and secure should something happen to us.”
When the wedding date was finally set, the Baxters didn’t get much notice — they found out about it the night before.
They hastily sent out a calendar invite saying the wedding is today. Thomas’ best man acted as a witness, and the couple were married at a computer in their home by a county official in his office.
After the ceremony, however, there was a special moment when the wedding official took his laptop with a live picture of the couple into a chapel and placed it on the altar, then took a photograph of the entire scene to give the couple a sense that they were standing under the wedding arch.
“It was all unexpected and unordinary, but they tried to make it fun for us,” Klee said. “At the end of the day we’re married and that’s what matters to us.”