Far from now and here, my soon-to-be-wife and I walked across the Piggly-Wiggly parking lot to the Citizen's Loan Company in Beaufort, South Carolina, to get married. To the locals, this was the Black Pig, even in 1976, because although anyone could shop anywhere and light and dark folk there buy pretty much the same groceries, the tradition of whose store was whose remained.
We had stayed at the motel at the other end of the lot. We headed to where a friend, Arthur Horne, chairman of the Beaufort County Council would perform the ceremony under his authority — as notary public. That may seem like having the clerk behind the counter at the post office conduct the marriage, but South Carolina is not the only state where the thinnest veneer of governmental authority legitimizes a civil contract meant to last a lifetime.
Arthur was craggy, an ex-Marine with the deep wrinkles of age, beating cancer, and too much Southern sun. Yet, he was deeply touched by being asked and cried as he did the deed. The authority invested in him as a notary public has lasted 28 years.
The Massachusetts version of authority is a bit more demanding. Recognized clergy can solemnize a marriage here, as can a justice of the peace. Otherwise, whether you are a Supreme Judicial Court Justice or a plain guy, you petition the governor for a one-day designation to wed a couple.