BELPRE - As the traditional wedding season kicks off and area churches and parks are filled with couples officially becoming one, mayors in Ohio are also becoming busier.
"When I was voted in as mayor in November 2007, I was told by (former mayor) Bill McAfee that I would be asked to do the occasional wedding," said Belpre Mayor Mike Lorentz. "I think he was joking because I have done more than a few."
Since he was sworn in as mayor in January 2008, Lorentz has performed about 210 wedding ceremonies with 73 having been done in his first two years in office.
Belpre Mayor Mike Lorentz stands in the Belpre City Council chambers where he performs many marriage ceremonies. Since he was sworn in as the city’s mayor in January 2008, Lorentz has married more than 200 couples. (Photo by Jolene Craig)
"I had no idea so many people would ask for me to perform their weddings," Lorentz said. "I do several weddings in the winters, but the summers are when I'm the busiest with at least one wedding each weekend, sometimes more."
Former Belpre Mayor Bill McAfee was in office for eight years and performed about the same number of weddings in that time Lorentz has in the three-and-a-half years he has been in the position.
"It's a privilege to be part of these couples' special day," Lorentz said. "I am very proud to have been part of it."
Lorentz said some weddings are scheduled months and weeks in advance while others are on-the-fly where the couple and a few witnesses come into the Belpre City Building asking to be married then and there.
"I try to be as accommodating as possible," Lorentz said. "I do what I can so they can be married when they want to be."
He is often asked to perform marriage ceremonies in other cities, which means he often performs the same wedding twice.
"I've done weddings in Wood and Athens counties, but those aren't legal until we do it in Washington County," Lorentz said. "I have done a lot of do-over weddings because the couple wants to get married with their friends and family outside of Washington County, so we do the official ceremony here and go to the party or we go to the party wedding and come back here for the official event because if I am going to perform a wedding, it will be done right.
"The strangest one was my niece wanted me to perform her wedding, which was in Florida; instead of doing it here before, she had a friend who is a notary public in Florida perform the ceremony with me, which made it legal."
According to the State of Ohio, the mayor of a municipal corporation may perform weddings in the county wherein their municipality completely or partially lies.
Lorentz said he believes there are several reasons he has been so popular with couples looking to marry.
"With the cost of renting a building or church along with the party, young people seem to be going the simpler and cheaper route," he said. "There have also been some pretty significant dates - 12-12-12 and 9-10-11 - that people wanted to commemorate with a wedding."
Lorentz and his wife, Joyce, who helps with each ceremony, give each new couple a copy of the Bible with a personal inscription to start off their marriage with a "strong foundation."
"I can't get past the feeling I'm responsible and I want to help them start off on a good foot," he said. "I enjoy doing weddings and have met some truly wonderful people, but I did not expect the responsibility.
"By giving them a Bible, even if they aren't religious, I feel we are giving them a strong start," Lorentz added.
He has met a lot of nice people and also many "ornery" people while performing these wedding ceremonies.
"It has been a trip for my wife and I," Lorentz said. "It is a fun time for us and we've gotten pretty good at telling which ones are going to make it.
"You can see it in their eyes, that spark and I'm really glad to have a part in that for them," he continued.
By law, mayors in Ohio are not allowed to receive any pay for performing a wedding, so Lorentz asks newlyweds to donate to the Belpre Area Ministries food pantry.
Mayors in West Virginia are not authorized to perform weddings, but several other states including New Jersey, Indiana and Montana are authorized.