Love is in the air in the basement of the Cook County Clerk’s office

Marriage and Civil Union Court in downtown Chicago might be dimly lit, but love and romance light it up each day.

Curious City Marriage Court thumb
Photo illustration by Maggie Sivit / WBEZ
Curious City Marriage Court thumb
Photo illustration by Maggie Sivit / WBEZ

Love is in the air in the basement of the Cook County Clerk’s office

Marriage and Civil Union Court in downtown Chicago might be dimly lit, but love and romance light it up each day.

Courthouse weddings have a lot going for them: They can be less stressful and less costly, take place in a smaller and more intimate setting, and are often steps away from great photo ops in historic locations.

In movies, courthouses are often elegant places with white columns, carved archways and light streaming in across marble floors and wooden benches.

But reality isn’t always so picturesque. At Marriage and Civil Union Court in downtown Chicago, wedding ceremonies take place in a basement room that looks more like the dentist’s office. These days, because of the pandemic, you have to make an appointment and there’s a limit to how many people can be there.

Thankfully, there are plenty of people keeping the glamour and romance alive at Marriage and Civil Union Court.

To answer a question about how many people get hitched in Chicago every year, we spent a day downtown meeting couples getting married. We asked each of them how they’re celebrating and when they knew the other person was “the one.”

Photo by Manuel Martinez, layout by Maggie Sivit / WBEZ
Photo by Manuel Martinez, layout by Maggie Sivit / WBEZ

Angel Santos is a 31-year-old barber who lives in Melrose Park.

He and Anoji Santos met three-and-a-half years ago, when Angel messaged her on social media.

Anjoli is a stay-at-home mom to four kids, ages 19, 13, ten and one-and-a-half.

Anjoli, who said she still gets butterflies every time she kisses Angel, said she wasn’t nervous the morning of the ceremony. And they didn’t do anything special before coming to Marriage and Civil Union Court. “To be honest, it was just so normal,” she said.

After the ceremony, they had plans to take photos at the Garfield Park Conservatory, one of their favorite places in the city. “And then dinner and a romantic night and that’s about it,” said Angel. “Probably at a steakhouse.”

Today is all about the two of them, but they have plans to have a big wedding with family and friends in Mexico later this year, Anjoli said.


Photo by Manuel Martinez, layout by Maggie Sivit / WBEZ
Photo by Manuel Martinez, layout by Maggie Sivit / WBEZ

Chi Shing is a 50-year-old driver who lives with Wing Yee Ip, a 34-year-old pharmacist, in Bridgeport.

Wing Yee is five months pregnant and the couple also has a 10-year-old at home. Wing Yee said they waited to get married because they’ve been busy with their lives. “He supported me all through school. We finally decided to get married!”

She said they had a normal day planned after the ceremony. They will run a few errands and head to a doctor’s appointment.


Photo by Manuel Martinez, layout by Maggie Sivit / WBEZ
Photo by Manuel Martinez, layout by Maggie Sivit / WBEZ

Kandyce Leverette is a 24-year-old nail technician. She did her nails in a sparkly French manicure for her wedding day.

She and Hakeem Leverette, a 24-year-old doorman, live in Woodlawn with Kandyce’s 7-year-old son, Kaiden.

The three didn’t plan their matching outfits on the day of the wedding, Kandyce said. “We didn’t even know what we were gonna wear.”

Kaiden said he was excited about the wedding and enthusiastic about partaking in marriage rituals. “I asked my momma if she could buy me a ring, too!” His mom said he’ll have to settle for a candy ring.

Kandyce and Hakeem met through a mutual friend.

After the wedding, they didn’t have too many plans, Hakeem said. “Whatever the day takes us, wherever the flow goes.”


Photo by Manuel Martinez, layout by Maggie Sivit / WBEZ
Photo by Manuel Martinez, layout by Maggie Sivit / WBEZ

Abigail Santana is a 20-year-old Bryant Park resident who works part time for Amazon.

She met Rafael Sanchez, a 22-year-old mechanic who has been living in Back of the Yards, through social media a little over four years ago.

Abigail said getting ready for the marriage ceremony was a long process. “I’ve been up since five in the morning,” she said. “It was an hour-and-a-half for my hair. I did my own makeup. One eyelash wouldn’t stick!”

She said she was feeling nervous and excited before the ceremony. “I was shaking, I was like, oh my God, I’m really here!”

Rafael, who was accompanied by his sister and grandmother, said his plans for the rest of the day included taking photos with Abigail downtown and going out for a nice dinner. “But right now I’m just enjoying the moment,” he said.


Photo by Manuel Martinez, layout by Maggie Sivit / WBEZ
Photo by Manuel Martinez, layout by Maggie Sivit / WBEZ

Ugochi Adegboye is a 62-year-old nurse who lives in Evergreen Park, Ill.

She met 53-year-old Kamar Adegboye, who is also a nurse, two years ago while they were working together at a hospital in Woodbridge.

This morning before the ceremony, Ugochi said she had butterflies in her stomach. “I was nervous.”


Photo by Manuel Martinez, layout by Maggie Sivit / WBEZ
Photo by Manuel Martinez, layout by Maggie Sivit / WBEZ

Isidoro Venegas is a 31-year-old carpenter from Palatine, Ill.

He met Yannet Hernandez, 34, through mutual friends, and the two have been dating for “going on five years.”

Isidoro said the day has been emotional and exciting. “It’s honestly been a little overwhelming,” he said.

“I was surprised by how fast it was,” he said of the ceremony at Marriage and Civil Union Court. “It took no more than 10 minutes. Then the judge helped us take photos.”

After the ceremony, Isidoro said he and Yannet had plans to “have a get together with friends and family at a clubhouse. It’s like a salon.” What type of food will be on the menu? “Oh we’ll have Mexican food for sure.”


Photo by Manuel Martinez, layout by Maggie Sivit / WBEZ
Photo by Manuel Martinez, layout by Maggie Sivit / WBEZ

Thirty-one-year-old Preston Ralford is a CTA bus driver who lives in Auburn Gresham.

Infiniti Ralford is a 30-year-old security guard who lives in Champaign-Urbana, Ill.

Infiniti said she still remembers the day she met Preston at South Shore High School.

“There was like a really big crowd at school,” she recalled, “and I was like, wow, he’s really tall!”

“At first he was skeptical of me, but then afterward I couldn’t get rid of him,” she continued, laughing.

When they met, Preston was 18 and Infini was 16. The two have been together ever since and have four children together.

After the ceremony, they planned to go to the Cheesecake Factory for lunch and then to Morton’s The Steakhouse for dinner.


Photo by Manuel Martinez, layout by Maggie Sivit / WBEZ
Photo by Manuel Martinez, layout by Maggie Sivit / WBEZ

Yingge Lyu is a 27-year-old sales representative.

Yingge and Angel Hernandez, a 25-year-old infantry officer in the U.S. Army, live together in Pilsen.

The two met in a language class at Northeastern University when they were undergraduates. They’ve been friends for six years and dating for four.

“She was nervous, I was pretty chill,” Angel said of the morning before the wedding ceremony. “I felt like she was my wife a long time ago. This is just formalities.”


Araceli Gómez-Aldana is a reporter at WBEZ. Follow her @Araceli1010.

Manuel Martinez is a visual journalist at WBEZ. Follow him @DenverManuel.

Maggie Sivit is Curious City’s digital and engagement producer. Follow her @magisiv.