There’s not much obviously romantic about a 9:34 a.m. Friday wedding inside a Fulton County courtroom, but you couldn’t tell that to Dawn Elizabeth Davis and Bahurudeen Abdul Hamid.

The couple met about 2 months ago when she ordered some samosa chaat from the Indian restaurant in Alpharetta where he is a chef. He came out to talk to patrons. She was smitten.

“It happened so magically,” said Abdul Hamid, 33. For his 53-year-old bride? “It was the garnishes that got me.”

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

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About 20 couples left the Fulton County courthouse Friday having had free weddings. The event was first-come, first-served because of COVID-19.

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

On Friday, after spending every day since together, the only thing between them was a tan government carpet adorned with pink rose petals and Fulton’s Probate Court Judge Kenya Johnson.

Johnson, who was elected in June, said Davis and Abdul Hamid are the first couple she ever married. The judge arranged 20 free courthouse weddings on Friday for Valentine’s Day. The court usually has a mass wedding with hundreds of people, but COVID-19 turned it into a year of first-come, first-served ceremonies.

Real flower petals filled the area where patrons were married at the Fulton County Courthouse in Atlanta, Friday, Feb. 12, 2021. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)
Caption
Real flower petals filled the area where patrons were married at the Fulton County Courthouse in Atlanta, Friday, Feb. 12, 2021. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

The couple promised each other respect, love and loyalty forever before Johnson finalized the marriage. Davis asked if she could lower her mask to kiss her new husband — the court ruled in her favor.

The courthouse wedding was not what Abdul Hamid had imagined growing up in India, but they plan to have a traditional ceremony later. When asked why they decided to get married in a pandemic, Davis said: “It was kind of like, why wait?”

Though Davis and Abdul Hamid didn’t let the pandemic stop them from exchanging promises, many couples appear to have been dissuaded from tying the knot since coronavirus began to spread.

Data obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution shows that marriage applications throughout the metro area were down last year. Court data from Cobb and DeKalb counties indicates applications went down 40% in 2020 for each county in 2020 compared to 2019.

One-year-old Fatima Zara Fofana stands in between her mother and father, Naminata Doumbia, left, and Ousmane Fofana, right, as they participate in a wedding ceremony performed by Fulton County Probate Judge Kenya Johnson, center, at the Fulton County Courthouse in Atlanta, Friday, Feb. 12, 2021. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)
Caption
One-year-old Fatima Zara Fofana stands in between her mother and father, Naminata Doumbia, left, and Ousmane Fofana, right, as they participate in a wedding ceremony performed by Fulton County Probate Judge Kenya Johnson, center, at the Fulton County Courthouse in Atlanta, Friday, Feb. 12, 2021. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Cobb had 193 applications in October 2020 compared to 599 during October 2019, according to their numbers. Gwinnett’s annual totals were down 9%.

In Fulton, the state’s most populated county, the annual number of marriage licenses was down less than 1% in 2020. But the month-by-month breakdown is revealing. There was a third as many marriage applications — from 203 to 660 — during the first full month of the pandemic in April 2020 compared to April 2019.

The wedding industry also took a hit for safety’s sake.

Atlanta event planner Kris Turner told the AJC that her business will typically host 60 events in a year. She said she was happy that Georgia re-opened in June because that saved her 2020, letting her run between 20 and 30 events — but it wasn’t easy with new restrictions.

She has heard some themes from couples who delayed, including, “I wish I would have done it last year” or “I feel like my moment has been taken from me.”

Though bookings are down for this year, she said 2022 dates are quickly filling up.

Rashad Hunter, center, and his wife, Kezia Hunter, right, hold their daughter Za’Kari Hunter after being married at the Fulton County Courthouse in Atlanta, Friday, Feb. 12, 2021. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)
Caption
Rashad Hunter, center, and his wife, Kezia Hunter, right, hold their daughter Za’Kari Hunter after being married at the Fulton County Courthouse in Atlanta, Friday, Feb. 12, 2021. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

“With the news of the vaccine,” Turner said, “people were getting really excited and they’ve just been booking.”

Many of the couples who came through the Fulton courthouse for a free wedding on Friday said they didn’t want to wait any longer, like the Lewises.

With the prospect of a lockdown ahead, 45-year-old Felicia started swiping through Tinder on March 26. She found 48-year-old Darion hours later.

They were supposed to be working, but we talked all day, she said.

He proposed on Mother’s Day. And the couple, both previously married, moved in with each other and now work from home together.

“Where COVID has been a downer for a lot of people, it’s been a positive for us,” he said. His bride agreed: “It takes out all the buffers.”

When asked for her last name, Felicia, in her white dress, paused for a second before answering — “Lewis.”

Darion Lewis smiled. “That sounds good.”


Wedding bell blues

The number of marriages throughout metro Atlanta’s probate courts was down in 2020 compared to 2019.

Administrators from courts in Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton and Gwinnett counties provided data showing a decrease.

Cobb had 3,660 applications in 2020 compared to 6,102 in 2019.

DeKalb saw 3,041 requests in 2020 and 5,205 in 2019.

Fulton received 6,589 applications in 2020 and 6,602 in 2019.

Gwinnett issued 4,953 licenses in 2020 and 5,487 in 2019.