Corey proves he's the marrying kind



Watch Corey marry couples as Elvis...



by Corey Levitan



        Gay marriages have nothing on me as a threat to the institution.

        Few people realize that to marry couples in California, you need only be considered a minister in the eyes of the law, not the Lord. And the law isn't as discriminating as He is.

        Five mouse clicks was all it took me to get ordained by the Universal Life Church.

        "Become a legally ordained minister RIGHT NOW, RIGHT HERE!" promised their Web site, which delivered with a .jpg of my credential within 3 minutes.

        And the price was right, too: Free. For life.

        "We believe that everyone is already a member of the church and is just not aware of it as yet," the Web site said.

        Mom always wanted me to marry someone. This may be the closest I come.

        The law on instant online ordination varies by state and municipality. New York City won't recognize it. But here in California, "any priest, minister, or rabbi of any religious denomination, of the age of 18 years or over may perform marriages."

         And, although its status is occasionally challenged, the Tucson, Ariz.-based Universal Life Church -- founded in 1959 by the late Kirby Hensley, who ordained the Beatles, George Burns and Betty Ford, among 18.3 million others -- is recognized as a religious denomination.

        "You're just as much a minister as that guy in that Baptist church down the street," says Rev. Bonnie Nixon of Torrance. "And the people you marry are just as married as if the Pope did it."

        Rev. Bonnie, an accountant and notary public by trade, and her husband -- retired Xerox commercial artist David Nixon -- were cool enough to let me try out my new ministry on one of their actual clients. Since 1997, they've performed marriages at the Cherished Vows chapel, a former tailor shop down the street from the oil refineries on Crenshaw Blvd.

        These adventures are a great lesson in how arbitrary regulations can be. For five months, I've been negotiating just to toss peanuts at a Dodgers game. (My request actually requires approval from the concessionaires' union!) But to join two people in the holiest of unions on earth?


        In my opinion, more is probably at stake in performing a marriage than tossing peanuts. So I consult with Erik Young, a former pastor at First Lutheran Church in Torrance. My quest seems to rattle him.

        "Just because you have a scalpel doesn't make you a doctor," says the 34-year-old reverend, now based in West Covina. "I did four years undergrad and four years masters, and you clicked on the Internet?"

        "Not just once," I point out. "But five times." (He made it sound easier than it was.)

        Young is nevertheless kind enough to lend pointers, such as how to stand (each foot facing one of the betrothing) and what to read (verses 4-8 of 1 Corinthian 13, by Apostle Paul).

        "Whether your Christian, Buddhist or Atheist, it is arguably one of the best things ever written on what love is," he says.

        Hmm, although my copy of the New Testament is probably lying around my apartment SOMEWHERE, I Google the passage. Hopefully, what I print out is more accurate than the song lyrics posted on some Web sites I've seen: ("Louie Louie/Oh baby/Get her down now.")

        It was love at first sight for Randy Caoile, a Federal Express courier from Costa Mesa, and his fiancÚ, Liezel Ragudos. Three weeks ago, they booked their wedding with Cherished Vows after dating for eight months.

       Since Randy and Liezel are Roman Catholic, I borrow the appropriate garb from Rev. David. What a wedding minister wears is just a formality. I could have slipped into the giant Quizno's cup from two adventure columns ago and the marriage would still take. (The only legal requirements are a license and a witnessed oral acknowledgement that the applicants seem to understand the concept of marriage. Not even the ring exchange is necessary.)

        I wonder whether impersonating a Catholic priest is ethical. But then, I'm not really impersonating a priest. I'm just wearing a priest's robe and collar while reading scripture. Right?

        OK, so maybe I shouldn't have taken those communions.

        Randy arrives 30 minutes before his 11 a.m. Saturday aisle-march, his dozen guests in tow. (Like most brides, his wishes not to be seen until the ceremony.) He is sweating like Tom Arnold on a treadmill. I offer a few words of comfort for his troubles and a few sheets of Bounty for his palms.

        Honestly, it's a relief that somebody here is more nervous than I am. Rev. David provides me further relief with a story about one hitching whose hitches I couldn't even hope to match.

        "As I was coming out of the bathroom, someone asked me to pray for him because he lacked confidence," he remembers the ceremony of about three years back. "I asked his name and when I went out to do the wedding, I used his name instead of the groom's."

        Perhaps Mr. and Mrs. Gonzalez could have overlooked the gaffe. But their last name was Gomez; Rev. David got that wrong, too. The bride exploded in tears. The Nixons refunded their money.

       "Hooray!" I pronounce. "We're here to celebrate, to honor, to laugh, to dance, and to be glad because the inevitable has happened -- love is alive and well in the land!"

       The words are sweet, but so not my style, they're like speed bumps to my peepers. Randy and Liezel have written their own vows. My half-memorized 1 Corinthian 13 printout is as useless as a Chicago Cubs World Series ticket.

       "You can give without loving, but you can never love without giving," I continue reading the unfamiliar vows, mounted in Rev. David's ceremony book (a leather folder complete with tissues for brides who cry, pins for grooms who like flowers, and Listerine strips for ministers who like salami).

        Randy and Liezel are standing too far to my left, according to Rev. Young's advice. But I neglect to correct them. I can't even make eye contact -- other than that fake kind speech-readers do at the end of every few sentences, the kind immediately followed by a frantic attempt to find the place they left off.

       "You didn't have to follow the script verbatim," Rev. Bonnie corrects me afterward. "You could have ad-libbed. They wouldn't have cared."

       I sense she is surprised that I stuck to a script -- that I didn't bust out juggling or announce, "I now pronounce you ... INSANE!" on the most important day in Randy and Liezel's life. But more wackiness is unnecessary. Sufficient wack is provided by the fact that it was me who actually performed this wedding.

        Just in case more wack is called for, however, Rev. Bonnie does help me apply a little twist; a pelvic twist. Now Paul and Tammy Schifanelli of Culver City are married based on the power vested in me as an impersonator of the '68 Comeback Special Elvis.


        "Remember, there is no return to sender," I tell the happy couple, curling my upper lip. "You may now kiss your cousin."

        I find this marrying stuff curiously addictive. It's like I'm a superhero with a highly specialized power that's terrifying (at least to confirmed bachelors). I roam the streets pondering whether I can marry evildoers against their will.

        A week after her wedding, I call Liezel on her cell phone to reveal the true nature of this article. (They knew only that we wanted to publish their wedding photos, not specifically why.) Frankly, I also want to check how the marriage is holding together. My interest is vested now.

        She's boarding a plane to New York City, she tells me, without Randy.

        Wow. Perhaps the power vested by five mouse clicks is even weaker than I thought.

        "We're great, dude!" Randy corrects me. In fact, they're expecting a baby, which explains the relative rush to the altar.

        He asks about my ordination, I tell him not to worry.

        "Your marriage is completely legal," I say.

        I neglect to mention my suspicion that Liezel may not be married in New York City.