Berkeley celebrates Valentine’s Day with mass wedding celebration

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Wedding bells will ring at the Downtown Berkeley BART plaza as community members come together for Berkeley’s first all-inclusive mass wedding celebration and renewal of vows Friday.

The celebration, “Downtown Berkeley is for Lovers,” will be open to couples of all genders and sexual orientations and will take place on the first Valentine’s Day since Proposition 8 was ruled unconstitutional and the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act.

“The way society is moving so fast on the subject of gay marriage, there’s so much joy about it,” said Polly Armstrong, CEO of the Berkeley Chamber of Commerce and one of the ceremony officiates at the event. “We want Berkeley to share in that joy.”

Although this is the first event of its kind in the city of Berkeley, Armstrong hopes the mass wedding celebration will become an annual tradition.

The event will include wedding and vow-renewal ceremonies at the Downtown Berkeley BART plaza as well as a prize-drawing and a group wedding reception.

Participating couples will have their names entered into a raffle to win a honeymoon package provided by local merchants, and three couples — one gay, one lesbian and one straight — will be chosen as winners. Spectators will also be able to choose their favorite couples, and their votes will be counted as entries for the drawing.

The winners will receive two nights at Hotel Shattuck Plaza, with meals provided by popular Berkeley restaurants, including BUILD Pizzeria, and tickets to local entertainment such as the Berkeley Repertory Theatre.

Many local businesses are also offering monthlong specials throughout February to attract both couples and friends to the Downtown area, according to John Caner, CEO of the Downtown Berkeley Association.

“This will increase the visibility of Downtown and Berkeley as a city that celebrates diversity and inclusion,” Caner said. “It’s not only a celebration of Downtown, but Berkeley celebrating Berkeley as a vibrant and culturally rich environment.”

As the first city in the nation to recognize domestic partnerships and to include sexual orientation in its antidiscrimination policy, Berkeley has been at the forefront of marriage equality and LGBT rights, according to Councilmember Jesse Arreguin, whose district includes Downtown Berkeley.

Arreguin will be joined at the ceremony by fellow Councilmember Darryl Moore, who will be one of the officiates at the ceremonies, and Councilmember Susan Wengraf, who will renew her vows with her husband.

Couples interested in participating in a marriage ceremony must bring valid IDs and a valid marriage license issued within the last 90 days, and they must register at the BART plaza between 3:30 and 4:30 p.m. Friday. The ceremony will begin at 5 p.m.

“If we have five people (there) it will be a success, and if we have 1,000 people it will be a success,” Armstrong said. “It’s the message and joy that really matters.”

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