Mike Hightower teased his wife about forgetting their first wedding anniversary, but Alison Hightower had a good reason for being confused: The couple had agreed to mark the day they exchanged vows in front of friends and family, rather than the day they legally wed.
The Hightowers are among a small but growing number of couples who tie the knot before their wedding ceremony.
Reasons vary, including insurance benefits, living arrangements, religion, citizenship requirements or marriage license restrictions. The practice also is common among members of the military, who may want to marry before they are deployed or to guarantee that their partner can travel with them to an assignment.
In the Hightowers' case, it was all about football.
Being married allowed Mike to purchase an extra season ticket for University of Florida football games. If the Gainesville, Fla., couple had waited until their wedding date, in May 2006, they would have missed the deadline to apply. So they wed in March at the courthouse, with her parents and some close friends attending.
"Most of our family understands our love of football," said Alison, 28, who came up with the plan.
A family friend officiated at the May ceremony, which included the exchange of rings, the bridal party and other traditional elements of a wedding.
"It's really pretty common" now to marry days or weeks before the ceremony, said Rebecca Dolgin, executive editor of the wedding Web site, TheKnot.com. "It definitely is accepted."
An infected tooth led Maria and Mory Thiaw of Camp Hill, Pa., to the altar three months early. Mory, who did not have dental insurance, had an untreated cavity that was causing a fever.
"He was getting sick. It was awful," recalled Maria, 34, who wanted to get him on her insurance plan. "I said, 'I'm not letting you go through this.'"
Their minister readily agreed to perform both weddings. "He told me this happens all the time," she said.
The Thiaws opted not to tell friends and family before their formal ceremony last August. But they will celebrate their anniversary in May, the day they became legal.
"It's not like the 85 wedding guests are going to be at our anniversary dinner," Maria said.
Two weddings are the norm for Chinese Americans who want a traditional Chinese wedding, said Cathy Luo of Brooklyn, N.Y., who planned two ceremonies in 2007. The U.S. government does not recognize the Chinese tea ceremony as a wedding, so couples also go through a civil ceremony.
Luo's marriage license says she married Gary Mah on Oct. 19, 2007, but the couple treats Dec. 8, the day of their tea ceremony, as their anniversary.
For Mary and Anthony Baszkowski, the decision to have two weddings was all about their anniversary date. They wanted to marry on Oct. 18, the 10th anniversary of their first date, but the hall they wanted for the ceremony was booked that day.
So they got married Oct. 18 in front of 50 people in Central Park, in New York City. Six days later, the couple, from Toms River, N.J., got married again, with 180 people in attendance.
"The first time, it was small and intimate," said Mary, 26. "For the second one, we wrote our own vows. It was perfect."