We all remember where we were on February 14, 2020, when Machel Montano married Renee Butcher at the Red House – just three weeks after the building was reopened after years of renovation. The photos were everywhere and they were stunning, and for me, they opened my eyes to a whole new possibility when it came to getting married.
As someone who never really wanted a church wedding and whose anxiety flared up at the thought of a big wedding, but who also didn’t necessarily get excited at the thought of a civil ceremony in the Legal Affairs offices on South Quay, a Red House wedding provided a happy solution.
There was something more elevated, more auspicious, about the idea of getting married at the seat of Parliament, a symbol of our country and our State.
And so, when the day came that I actually did decide to get married, the Red House was for me, an easy choice. After seven and a half years together, I’m pretty sure Brandon (my partner) would have gone along with anything I suggested, but luckily for me he also seemed excited about the idea of a Red House wedding.
Unfortunately, we only decided to get married during the pandemic, when the Red House had discontinued weddings on its premises. We would have to wait until the COVID-19 situation had calmed down enough for nuptials to resume there.
That day came on May 3, 2022, when it was announced that weddings would resume at the Red House.
Brandon and I got married just over five months later on October 13.
By now a few people have messaged me asking how to book their wedding at the Red House since it can be a bit difficult to get information over the phone. I’ll go through our entire process in detail here for those asking.
Before the Day
Brandon and I posted banns back in early June at the Tunapuna Revenue District Office.
Typically, you’re supposed to post banns where you reside. So, if you and your partner reside in different parts of Trinidad and Tobago, you’ll each need to post banns on the same day at the District Revenue Office closest to where you reside. Yes, I said District Revenue Office. Although the entire marriage process is under the jurisdiction of the Registrar General’s Department, which is part of the Ministry of the Attorney General and Legal Affairs, the posting of banns is facilitated by District Revenue Offices, which are under the purview of the Ministry of Finance. It can be confusing.
Banns are generally a pretty funny concept since it’s basically just a notice of intention to marry so anyone who needs to object (like, let’s say, one’s current spouse) can do so.
As I understand it, the notice literally gets posted up on a notice board outside the office for the public to see.
Apparently, these also used to be published in the daily newspapers but we were told that rarely happens anymore, if at all.
So any would-be bigamist getting caught trying to get married to someone else while already married is totally dependent on someone happening to see the notice outside the office and informing the current spouse to go and make noise. Who knows, maybe there are people who make it their business to go check the notice boards weekly to see if they know anyone posting so they can make them out.
But, I digress.
Your banns stay up for eight calendar days, and then you go back to the District Revenue Office and take it down. Once no one has opposed your marriage, you pay $10 and get your Registrar’s Certificate (marriage license) issued.
You need to get married within six months after the date on the marriage license (they actually include the date on the document itself). If not, you’ll need to go through this whole process again.
Even though we had our license in hand in early June, Brandon and I had not settled on an exact date we wanted to be married. I suppose we knew that was out of our hands to an extent.
I didn’t actually go about making the appointment to get married at the Red House until early August.
To do this, I went to the Marriages Unit at the Office of the Attorney General and Legal Affairs on Richmond Street with the Registrar’s Certificate and my ID. Brandon did not need to go with me then, nor on any other day I went to the Ministry; one partner can do all this administrative stuff without the other there.
Anyway, silly me, I thought I could go in early August for a date at the end of the month. Nope.
Pre-pandemic, Red House weddings took place on Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays. However, since their resumption in May of this year, Red House weddings only take place on Thursdays.
As a result, by early August, the schedule was booked solid until the middle of October.
I took the first available date, which happened to be October 13, three days after my birthday (booo!).
I was given a document outlining General Guidelines for the use of the Parliamentary Precincts for Marriage Ceremonies, which detailed the dos and don’ts, dress code, etc.
One important thing to note is that you are allowed a maximum of six guests, not including you and your partner. If you want to have a photographer, they will need to be one of the six guests in your wedding party. I get the impression that Parliament is not very flexible on that point. So please, avoid getting braced on your wedding day and keep your circle tight.
I was asked to return to the Marriages Unit one week before the wedding to submit the Registrar’s Certificate, the names of the people attending the wedding, and copies of our IDs as well as our witnesses’ IDs. I also filled out an application form for our marriage certificate at the same time.
Unfortunately, as my luck would have it, the building was closed due to inclement weather before I had a chance to pay the wedding fee and certificate fee so I had to return the next day to make that payment.
The marriage fee was $50 and the certificate fee was $25. Hold on to your receipt! You’ll need it to collect your certificate, which should be ready ten business days after the wedding.
On the Day
We were asked to arrive at 9:30 am on the day so naturally, we arrived at 9:20 am.
We entered from the St Vincent Street side of the compound through the entrance facing Sackville Street.
Once we got through the security scanners and signed in, we were ushered into the Rotunda Gallery to wait. Another couple was there already so clearly arriving a bit early isn’t a problem.
We hung out in the Rotunda Gallery for a while, checking out the art on display, as we waited for the Registrar to arrive.
They didn’t tell us beforehand what time the actual ceremony would take place, but on the day they mentioned it should begin at 10 am. (Spoiler alert: the cremony did not begin at 10 am).
One of my biggest goals was to get some photos outside the Red House so my photographer spoke to the police officer who was liaising with us and got permission for us to spend a few minutes outside taking pictures.
We actually got more than a few minutes because they didn’t call us back inside until the Registrar arrived, probably between 10:20 am and 10:30 am.
The ceremony itself took place in a narrow corridor along the exterior of the western side of the building.
We were allowed to take photos in this space as well, once the staff’s faces weren’t visible.
Brandon and I said an oath, put our rings on and signed the register, and then our witnesses stepped forward to sign as well. The entire ceremony probably took around 15 minutes.
Once back outside, we took a few more photos and that was it! Done and dusted! Knot tied, broom jumped, ball and chain locked in!
After the Day
Our marriage certificate was actually ready to collect *gasp* ten business days later, as promised. My name was on the receipt so I had to collect it.
I just needed to return to the Registrar General’s Department with my receipt (yeah remember what said about holding on to your receipt? Well, I lost mine, but luckily I had scanned it so I had that as a reference) and a form of ID and they handed it over.
And that’s that, now we’re officially an old married couple.
Now, a Red House wedding won’t be for everyone. You compromise on a lot of the traditional elements you probably grew up associating with a wedding and you’re challenged to pick only a handful of people to witness this huge moment in your life.
But if you’re someone who’s comfortable with keeping your circle small, you don’t feel strongly about the rituals of organised religion, and you’re flexible with your dates, it could be the perfect wedding for you, like it was for us.
If there’s anything else you’re wondering about a Red House wedding that I didn’t cover, feel free to drop your question in the comments and I’ll do my best to respond.