Judge marries 61 couples for free on Valentine’s Day in Edinburg

EDINBURG — It was everywhere you looked. A man shielding his fiancee’s face from the sun. A couple dancing as mariachis serenaded lovers while red roses complemented the brides’ gowns. Longing looks and sweet embraces. Regardless where you were at the amphitheater here Tuesday, love was everywhere.

Under the clear blue sky, with the temperature fluctuating between the 70s and 80s, it was certainly a nice day for a white wedding.

Make that weddings — plural. About 61 of them.

As part of a tradition, Hidalgo County Justice of the Peace Charlie Espinoza held his annual free weddings event for Valentine’s Day on Tuesday, this time at the Edinburg Amphitheater on West McIntyre Street to accommodate more people and parking.

“When I first started a couple came in and they did not have the funds to pay for the wedding,” Espinoza said, explaining this was the moment when he had the idea of marrying couples for free on Valentine’s Day. “It’s a lot more fun. I give to my community and they enjoy the day because it’s a very special day, Valentine’s Day.”

A white arch in the center of the amphitheater with red, white and pink ribbon decorating the rim with roses completing the lovely look.

The couples began to arrive around 10 a.m. and were given a rose as they made their way into the venue, where they were greeted by the song “Until I Found You” by Stephan Sanchez.

Then the weddings followed a little after 11 a.m., as 61 couples exchanged their vows and rings, and said “I do” before their families and loved ones. Espinoza said this was something of a first for the Rio Grande Valley and referred to it as possibly the largest mass wedding, at one time, in the area ever. For comparison, he used to marry 20 to 30 couples each year.

It slowly dawned on me, ‘Oh my God this woman is perfect.’

There was no shortage of love stories to be told as couples reminisced about how they met and what they mean to each other.

Christian Compean, 28 and Maritza Martinez, 29, had a particularly sweet beginning.

They met at a call center. He was in charge of training the new groups and she was a new employee. He said he noticed her right away, and things just kind of happened.

“It slowly dawned on me, ‘Oh my God this woman is perfect,’” Christian said, adding she was the reason he looked forward to going to work. “Every day coming into work she was the highlight of my day. Those were the days I was happy to go to work.”

Christian Compean, 28, and Maritza Martinez, 29, stare into each others eyes as they wait for Hidalgo County Justice of the Peace Charlie Espinoza to marry couples during the annual Valentine’s Day free marriage event at the Edinburg Amphitheatre on Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2023, in Edinburg. (Delcia Lopez | [email protected])

He explained that although it’s a cliche, he truly was marrying his best friend.

The most romantic thing Maritza has done for him, according to Christian, was agreeing to start a family with him. He explained that when they first began dating she didn’t want to have kids, and then one day she changed her mind.

“I always wanted a big family and she was willing to say, ‘OK, I’ll give you a big family,’” he explained that moment has been embedded in his heart as the gesture of all gestures.

Although they have known each other for four years, they only began dating a year ago on Valentine’s Day, the day that they will now celebrate their wedding anniversary.

He really is my better side.

Yulissa Zamora, 26, and Kerry Zamora, 29, couldn’t help but giggle when they talked about their relationship.

“It’s a funny story,” Kerry said with a laugh adding that the couple first met at a Peter Piper Pizza thanks to a mutual friend. “The reason why I like it though (the story of how they first met) is because of how the entire night ends. The way it ends is that I ask her out and her friend told me that she couldn’t say no because of a bet. So I was like you know what, 100% chance of a yes … I’ll take it.”

Yulissa jokingly added, “I honor my word.”

She explained that one of the most romantic gestures Kerry has done for her was getting a tattoo of a Harry Potter line that the character Severus Snape says, “Always,” because it holds a special meaning for them.

“He really is my better side,” Yulissa said with tenderness.

Crystal Peña, 34, stood in a white dress and veil as she waited for her soon-to-be husband Michael Peña, 35, to return after parking the car.

“I thought he ran away from me,” she said jokingly as he walked up to her with a big smile across his face. “I’ve been waiting to be Peña.”

The couple, who chose to make Tuesday their special day after being together for 15 years, explained that they were just as much in love today as they were the day they began dating.

To see more, view Monitor photojournalist Delcia Lopez’s full photo gallery here: 

Photo Gallery: Judge marries 61 couples for free on Valentine’s Day in Edinburg