It was about 8 a.m. on a Monday when Matthew Sabato looked across the paint-splattered studio in the Harlem neighborhood of New York City, where he lives with his partner, Pedro Silva, an artist.
“Put down the paintbrush,” he recalls saying, as they drank their coffee. “Let’s go to City Hall.”
For months, the couple, who met two years ago on the dating app Tinder, had been discussing their future. But after the presidential election in November, formalizing their commitment became a priority.
“He’s foreign,” Sabato said.
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Silva, who is from Brazil, is in the United States on a tourist visa, which expires in early February.
“We’re afraid because Trump is going to be our president,” Sabato said.
In the weeks before and after the election of Donald Trump, whose promise to deport millions of immigrants was a central theme of his campaign, the number of couples getting marriage licenses has surged in New York City and other cities across the country.
While there is no data explaining why couples are suddenly marrying at a faster pace, many immigrants and their partners say they are feeling an urgency to put a ring on before Inauguration Day.
Couples like Silva and Sabato are forgoing gushy, diamond-studded proposals in favor of frank discussions at the breakfast table. For some, a marriage certificate has become a protective shield.
“We don’t want anything to separate us,” Sabato said.
Five days after Sabato’s “unromantic,” proposal, his parents traveled from Florida to witness the couple’s ceremony at the marriage bureau in lower Manhattan.
In November, the New York City clerk’s office issued 6,929 marriage licenses, a 23 percent increase from November 2015, and performed 4,590 ceremonies, an increase of almost 19 percent. Then through Dec. 23, the office issued 5,682 licenses, up almost 16 percent from about the same time period last year.
Michael McSweeney, the New York City clerk, said the election could certainly be a factor, but so could the relatively calm weather or low airfares, making New York a more attractive destination for out-of-towners.
“We don’t survey our visitors,” he said.
Clerks in Illinois, Michigan, Texas, Florida and California also reported a recent rise in the number of marriages.
The Cook County clerk’s office, which includes Chicago and surrounding suburbs, issued 3,115 licenses in the month after the election, a 40 percent jump from the same period last year.
In November, the Wayne County clerk in Michigan, which includes Detroit, issued 497 licenses, about an 11 percent increase from the same month in 2015, and the Los Angeles County clerk issued 3,465 licenses, a 10 percent rise. The increase was about 8.5 percent in Miami-Dade County, according to the clerk’s office, and Bexar County in Texas, which includes San Antonio, issued 1,135 licenses in November, an increase of just more than 6 percent.
While same-sex couples are also hurrying up their wedding plans, professionals whose businesses are tied to marriages say that many couples are prompted by fears over changes in immigration policy.
Janay McNeil, a photographer who includes the words “last-minute wedding photography” on her website, said that in recent months she had received a deluge of emails, some at 2 a.m., from couples flying to New York City to get a wedding portrait and a license the same day.
She has met many couples, she said, in which one partner is here on a visa and they are worried about what might happen in the coming year. Getting a license has become “a necessity,” she said.
It could be a Trump bump.
George Taxi, who sells loose rose petals, bouquets of yellow calla lilies and gold-plated rings on the sidewalk in front of the entrance to the marriage bureau in Manhattan, a few blocks north of City Hall, said his sales this November were far higher than in the same month last year.
“It could be a Trump bump,” he said.
While he talks with his customers, he said he didn’t like to be “too nosy.” But his wife, Maribel, who is Colombian and works with him on Fridays, said she had spoken to some Latino couples who recently confessed that they were getting married in response to the election.
Cheryl R. David, a lawyer who has focused on immigration law in New York City for about 20 years, said, “I think people are frightened of the rhetoric and they fear they'll be picked up and deported.”
David anticipates that a new administration will pursue changes to immigration policies, though she does not envision the kind of mass deportations that some Trump critics have described.
Undocumented migrants still have legal rights, David said, and immigration courts are severely backlogged.
Marriage, she added, is one way to at least “take control of your life” when there is uncertainty, especially in the face of “overt racism and hatred.”
Rebecca Sosa, an immigration lawyer in New York City, said “it’s logical and practical” for couples to consider how getting married “will help them stay together and provide immigration benefits and protection to the immigrant spouse.”
“Given that immigrants have been the No. 1 group targeted as victims of hate crimes and discriminatory incidents,” she added, acquiring legal immigration status “is a natural response to try and defend yourself and your loved ones.”
On a brisk December morning at the marriage bureau in Manhattan, Diamond Booker arrived in a light gray suit, blue tie and stiff tan shoes that he had purchased at a Men’s Warehouse store, trailed by a boisterous entourage, which included his basketball coach, boss, two sisters, nieces, nephews and about a dozen of his fiancee’s family members, who had traveled from Mexico City.
The bride, Maria Cervantes, 27, wore white slip-on sneakers covered in rhinestones, a knee-length lace dress, a gray wool jacket and a braided headpiece dotted with small white flower buds.
Booker, 27, said he had never been to Mexico before meeting his wife-to-be on Tinder two years ago when she worked as an au pair.
But he made six trips after she moved back to Mexico City to teach English. Each time, the visits got longer and it became harder to be apart, he said.
To see all of this hatred, even in some parts of New York, it made me very nervous.
Heartache and anxiety were compounded by news reports about Trump’s plans to build a wall along the Mexican border and his denunciations of Mexicans as murderers and rapists.
“To see all of this hatred, even in some parts of New York, it made me very nervous,” he said.
So one morning in October, while Cervantes was visiting on a tourist visa, the couple were in their pajamas eating chilaquiles in the dining room of Booker’s childhood home in the Bronx, where he lives with his father and stepmother.
There was no ring, but Booker’s proposal was a promise to give her the opportunity to “work a real job and start to grow her career, so she doesn’t have to work off the books.”
“It’s security,” he said.
This week, the couple plans to include the marriage license as part of their application for a green card, which will cost close to $2,000, he said, not including lawyer’s fees. (The federal agency that approves green card applications, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, raised prices last week.) In three years, Cervantes can apply for citizenship.
Booker, who is about a foot taller than his bride, said he also wants Cervantes to take self-defense classes so she can protect herself when he’s not around.
“I can’t lose her,” he said. “I won’t let anyone take her away from me.”