EASTAMPTON "Do you have the vows?" Burlington County Clerk Timothy Tyler asked his assistant Thursday afternoon as they stood in a narrow corridor of Smithville Mansion.
Heather Cheeseman could have given her boss a look that said, "You'd think you know this by now."
Instead, she rummaged through her briefcase and handed Tyler a stack of white papers. Each bore 300 words and began: "We are gathered here today to share in the joy . . .."
Tyler has recited wedding vows about 1,050 times since he became county clerk five years ago, putting him on track to be the marryingest county clerk in New Jersey.
He's not there yet, however. Middlesex County's clerk, Elaine Flynn, has done at least 3,500 weddings in her 18 years on the job.
But Tyler, 46, won election in November to his second five-year term and is gaining fast. He admits he has his eye on breaking the state record and says he will use just about any opportunity - Christmas, Halloween, Valentine's Day, and playful date clusters like 10-10-10 (Oct. 10, 2010) 11-12-13 - to tie the knots of secular matrimony multiple times in a day.
Weddings are "just a really enjoyable thing to do," he said. He charges no fee.
It was shortly before 2 p.m., and his first couple of the day - early 30s, second marriage for both - were hunched over a table at the county-owned mansion, filling out forms that would, in a few minutes, become their marriage certificates.
Being a county clerk has its share of headaches, Tyler said. Among them, he must rule on who is eligible to run for public office, and those judgments can provoke anger, lead to court challenges, and are sometimes overturned.
"So that's the hard part of my job."
"But this," he said, gesturing into the next room at a giant Christmas tree decorated with gilded fiddles and horns where he was scheduled to perform 12 weddings that afternoon "is the fun part."
Most of the weddings Tyler performs outside his Mount Holly office are at the 1840s Greek Revival mansion in the county's 312-acre Smithville Park, or at the Lyceum in Mount Laurel, a Victorian-era mansion that is home to the Burlington County Historical Society.
But he has also done them at a marina in Burlington City, and at the somber Burlington County Prison Museum. "I seem to recall the groom wore a cowboy hat," he said.
At 2 p.m., the first couple - he in a gray suit, she in a cream-colored lace dress and bright red sweater - made their way into the high-ceilinged meeting room and took their places beside the tree.
"We have gathered here today," Tyler began, reading from one of the printed sheets Cheeseman had handed him earlier. He uses them not for reciting the vows (which he knows by heart) but for the names of the betrothed, which appear seven times in the standard ring ceremony. Cheeseman had them all filled in.
Tyler's delivery style could be described as something between "staccato" and "machine gun," with some words coming so rapidly even the solemn admonition "the rings you are about to give each other seal the vows of marriage" seemed a blur.
But at their the ring exchange - "I, Crystal, take you . . ." - the couple, who asked that their names not be used for this article, spoke their vows slowly and with affection.
After Tyler pronounced them man and wife, they finished with a kiss as their family and friends applauded.
Tyler then slipped out of the room as the gathering of about a dozen hugged one another and took photos.
Out in the hall, the 2:15 wedding party had gathered.
As a middle-aged man in a black tuxedo filled out the marriage certificate, a tall woman in a black dress plucked a piece of lint from his shoulder. When a visitor joked that the two looked like they were already married, the man looked up and laughed.
"Oh, no," said Michael Yousko of Mount Holly. "I'm marrying him," pointing to Alex Patrino, his life partner of 23 years.
A few minutes later, Patrino and Yousko were standing before Tyler by the Christmas tree. Both wept as they took turns pressing a ring part-way onto the other's left finger, and reciting the vows, "I Alex, take you, Michael . . .."
At the end, Tyler pronounced them "spouse and spouse."
"I'm so happy," Yousko told Patrino. "After 23 years.
Yet the next couple, 21-year-old Valerie Mata and 19-year-old Nancy Ayala of New Hanover, was quite unfazed by the once-unimaginable phenomenon of same-sex marriage.
They recited the vows with smiles, not tears, and after their first married kiss, Mata touched a finger to her bride's lips and laughed. "Lipstick," she explained.
"I wish you joy all the rest of your days," Tyler told them as they departed.
"This is so awesome," said Nancy Mata - she had taken Valerie's last name - as Eastampton Township Clerk Kim-Marie White handed her a marriage certificate embossed with the township seal. It is the same seal that has certified every marriage in Eastampton, Mata said, since the town's founding in 1880.
Tyler, who is divorced with two children, said he had seen a spate of same-sex weddings since the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled in October that the state must start issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
Thursday was no exception. Seven of the day's 12 ceremonies were same-sex, keeping Tyler, Cheeseman, and deputy county clerk Wade Hale at the mansion past 7 p.m.
"It's a great job," Tyler said. "People are never sad. There's often tears. But they're tears of joy."