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San Mateo Daily News


February 15, 2008


By Christine Morente / MediaNews



Love, marriage and Valentine's Day
County performs 17 ceremonies on holiday



Mark Wright and Karen Balderama looked into each other's eyes and couldn't stop grinning.

Holding hands, they listened to Helen Arbues, deputy commissioner of marriage for San Mateo County, as she began their wedding ceremony on Valentine's Day.

"Love, loyalty and unity are the foundations of a happy and enduring home," Arbues said. "Marriage is solemn and not entered into lightly. Do you promise to love and cherish each other?"

While there were no rings to exchange - that will happen in May - the San Mateo couple said their "I dos" and sealed their union with a very long kiss, and many more kisses after that.

Wright and Balderama were among 17 couples who tied the knot at the San Mateo County Clerk-Recorder's Wedding Chapel on Thursday.

The quick ceremonies were scheduled every half hour. On a normal day, four weddings are performed, said Theresa Rabe of the Clerk-Recorder's Office.

The office has been marrying people for 151 years. And Arbues said she's married "hundreds" of couples since 1994.

So she was very busy on Valentine's Day.

"I love to come to work every day," said the former nurse. "I believe in marriage."

Wright, 33, and 29-year-old Balderama met in London in August 2001.

She and her best friends, Walsy Lam and Linda Chu, traveled to Europe after graduating from college.

To save money in London, they decided to stay with Anthony Wright, Lam's friend - now her husband - and Mark Wright's brother.

Chu said there was instant chemistry between Balderama and Wright.

"She said, 'He's kind of cute,' and he said, 'She's kind of cute,'" said Lam, who served as a witness.

When the three friends left for the States, Balderama and Wright kept in touch through daily phone calls that lasted two hours or more.

Three months later, he visited Balderama in San Francisco.

"We decided then that we wanted to be together," Balderama said. "We were looking toward the future and him moving here."

The morning before he left, he proposed.

"We were in love and in a moment," said Wright, who was instantly drawn to her beauty, kindness and humor. For her, the initial draw was his British accent.

Seven years later, they decided it was time to make it official. Their date just happened to land on Valentine's Day.

"It's kind of cliche," Balderama said. "But why not?"

After the ceremony, they picked up their marriage certificate.

Lam and Chu giddily reflected on the duo's relationship. They said he's been supportive of her while she was in law school, and that it was incredible he moved to the States for her.

"She's always been picky, and doesn't put up with anything," Lam said. "They're both like that. He said that she's the only person that doesn't annoy him. They're very sweet on each other."

Chu agreed.

"If they can survive (law) school, they can survive marriage," she said.