SAN ANTONIO (AP) — Susie Herrera wiped away tears. Her husband, Louis, looked nervous, then smiled.
Standing at the top of the stairs outside the historic 1892 Bexar County Courthouse in downtown San Antonio, they joined dozens of other couples Thursday in what's now a more than two-decade-long tradition in the Alamo city — free marriage on Valentine's day.
"It's different," Herrera, 44, acknowledged, saying she and her 64-year-old husband decided two weeks ago to get married. "We had plans to get married but decided to go ahead and do it this way."
Louis Herrera said unlike his new wife, he was able to keep the tears away.
"I was trying to hold it," he admitted.
"He's more man than me," she laughed.
The Rev. Joe Sullivan, pastor of the city's All Believers Church who's presided over these free nuptials for 24 years, advised the couples to "practice forgiveness."
"It is a healing process," he said. "It'll give you good nights."
He also warned them the ceremony was "not an annual renewal. This is forever."
Sixty-five couples married at midnight. About three dozen more took their vows at midmorning Thursday and more arrived for group ceremonies set throughout the day.
Some, like Stephanie Corpus, 24, of San Antonio, wore wedding dresses.
"It was more than I expected," she said happily after the 20-minute ceremony marked by the sounds of trucks, buses and motorcycles in busy downtown and an airplane overhead. A man in chef's garb passed out restaurant fliers.
"I thought it was great, awesome," her new husband, Eric, 25, beamed. The couple has known each other for three years.
Others dressed more casually. One couple had matching T-shirts made to look like tuxedos along with matching red athletic shoes. Afterward, some posed for photos in front of a giant image of the Texas flag, part of a campaign by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the Texas Historical Commission to celebrate the state's historic courthouses.
Bexar County Clerk Gerard Rickhoff coordinates the event, where he also passes around a wrapped gift box for people to place donations that go to programs combatting family violence.
"It's well received in the community and well attended," Rickhoff said. "My parents were married for 60 years. They were happily married on Valentine's Day as these couples were."
Sullivan, using a portable sound system to address the couples, interjected in his opening remarks that the newlyweds were welcome to partake in a two-for-one-price dinner Thursday evening that included a complimentary "honeymoon dessert."
Debbie Dozier, who's attended Sullivan's church for years, said the story he tells is that he prayed to God, asking what he could do for people, and God told him to perform marriages on Valentine's Day without charge.
"I think it's wonderful," she said.
"It doesn't matter where you live, what kind of clothes you wear, what car you drive," the pastor said before moving forward with the wedding vows. "It's love all wrapped up in a beautiful package. My wish is every one of you be breathtakingly happy."