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Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on February 11th, 2014, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 14, Issue 49 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 14, Issue 49

Wedding by stealth:These local couples' 'secret' weddings stuck it to the man


The exclamation point runs rampant through the forums of

“Engagement pics!!!” one forum is titled. “100 Days and Counting!” squeals another. “What is your mother wearing!?” another is eager to know. The excitement is palpable, and so are the nerves.

Finally, one user—bella628—spells it out: “anyone else tired of planning???!!” The question-mark-to-exclamation-point ratio means trouble.

Within minutes, the forum has blown up with responses.

“I suggested just eloping so we could get on with our life together.”

“I’m ready to elope myself after this LOL.”

“I was burnt out about a month into it.”

“I’m overrrrrr it!”

These are, of course, interspersed with commentary from more enthusiastic brides-to-be—this being a popular wedding planning site after all:

“I love planning so much I don’t want it to end! I also love it so much I’m actually thinking of moonlighting as a wedding planner!”

´╗┐These cake toppers by Charlene Britton go for $88 on her Etsy shop creativebutterflyxox.

But bella628 had hit the nail on the head. The extravagant wedding-as-yearlong-project is not for everyone. And going by the exclamatory intimations of, some brides seem to pine for just the opposite: simple, economical, discreet, and low-profile. A covert operation. A stealth-attack marriage. A ninja wedding, if you will.

Owing to their very nature, there aren’t a whole lot of experts to consult for an article on such unions. No wedding planners can weigh in on color schemes, decorative trends, or other such dos and don’ts. There generally aren’t many caterers, wedding singers, or event rental companies involved in a wedding only a handful of people know about. The whole idea is to keep it intimate.

The only experts, really, are the couples themselves—couples like Dan and Kathy Ernst, owners of Grand Central Music Store in San Luis Obispo. On Dec. 12, 2013, a Thursday, Dan and Kathy were wed at Madonna Inn.

“They didn’t know about it or anything like that,” Dan was quick to explain in a phone interview. “We just rented the room.”

The Inn may be known as a prestigious and costly location for weddings and receptions, but there’s no rule that says guests can’t just sneak in a quick poolside wedding between breakfast that morning and horseback riding that afternoon. So that’s just what they did.

That’s not to suggest that the Ernsts hadn’t thought the whole marriage thing through. Much to the contrary: The pair had been living together for four years to the day, and had been engaged for almost as long. But several unexpected life events—a death in the family; the groom’s illness—had insinuated themselves, forcing the couple to postpone their nuptials.

The idea for their “stealth wedding”—both Dan and Kathy, when I spoke to them, quickly adopted this term—struck when the couple took a vacation to Tahoe last November.

“Everyone was teasing us, saying, ‘You’re going to come back married,’” laughed Kathy. “And we thought, ‘That’s not such a bad idea.’”

They approached Andy Morris—DJ, wedding officiant, Grand Central Music employee, and good friend—and asked, “How about Thursday?” according to Kathy.

The couple booked a room—the event’s biggest expense—purchased flowers on the way, and picked out a good spot by the waterfall. Happy coincidences seemed to attend all that happened that day: By the pool that morning, the two met another couple who were celebrating their anniversary—and, bizarrely, were just checking out of the room Dan and Kathy were about to stay in.

Seeing the flowers, the woman said, “Those are pretty, what are you doing?” Kathy remembers. “I said, ‘We’re pulling a stealth wedding! Shh!’”

The couple offered to serve as impromptu photographers, providing Dan and Kathy with an album full of images from that day.

Andy, Dan and Kathy’s officiant, abandoned his standard sermon in favor of a spontaneous speech that better suited the spirit of the moment.

“He really just talked from the heart. We both thought we were going to be able to say something to each other, but we were just blubbering,” Kathy continued. “I’m tearing up even now. Andy just captured everything.”

The entire ceremony lasted about 10 minutes, she said.

The couple didn’t invite any guests—they had decided it was the only way to ensure that there were no hurt feelings, they explained, or frustrations over a short-notice invitation—and Kathy even waited until the day of the wedding to inform her adult children. Looking back, however, the pair appears confident they made the right decision.

“We just wanted to make it official without making a fuss,” Kathy explained. “We just made

it about us that day, instead of the guests.”

Does she ever feel jealous of other couples’ pomp-and-circumstance weddings, I asked.

“No. I’m completely happy with what we had,” Kathy said, and I completely believed her.

Other local couples have gone stealth for different reasons. Take, for instance, local writer Fantasia Merryweather and her wife, grad student Ellowyn Tinsley.*

Fantasia and Ellowyn were engaged in 2009 following the brief legalization of gay marriage in California, after dating for seven years.

“In 2008 when it was made legal in California, and everyone was rushing to San Francisco and everything to get married, we thought, it’ll be around. We’re not quite ready yet. We don’t want to rush into a wedding,” Fantasia said. “We’re ready to get married emotionally, but we don’t want to rush into the ceremony; we want to take time and plan it correctly. Well, lo and behold, Proposition 8 passed and it wasn’t legal anymore. So then we had to wait.”

After the Supreme Court deemed Proposition 8 unconstitutional last summer, making gay marriage legal once again in California, Fantasia and Ellowyn decided not to take any chances. They planned a wedding to take place in the winter of 2014—but wed in secret last September, “just to get it in the books,” Fantasia explained.

“We kept the secret because we still want—when we have the bigger wedding—we want people to come and not say, ‘Oh, you’re married already. We don’t need to come.’”

At this point, Fantasia and her wife have wound up telling most of their close friends and family members—though not all of them, which is why I’m referring to the couple by ridiculously fake names.

The civil ceremony lasted a half hour, and each woman invited one close friend to serve as a witness.

“It was great fun. We had our very good friends from L.A. come up and be with us. It was so cool. It was great, and they liked being in on the secret-ness of it. It was just the four of us. And we ended up with a really cool officiant, which was just the luck of the draw,” Fantasia recalled.

Then there was the problem of keeping it a secret for more than a year.

“I’ve told now most of the people—so I’m ruining your storyline!” Fantasia admitted with a laugh. “The idea was, we would go into it, just tell our very closest friends who we wanted to be our witnesses, and then as it got closer, I can’t remember how it came up with each person, but we would be like, ‘We can’t keep a secret from X,’ you know.”

*Some names have been changed.

Anna Weltner is arts editor for New Times, the Sun’s sister paper to the north. She can be reached at

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