Buenos Aires Amor (Buenos Aires Love) set out to deliver a more flexible, convenient and beautiful wedding experience for couples being married by civil authorities. A “Marriage in Iconic Places” pilot program asked residents to vote on which cultural landmark was the most desirable wedding venue. (The spectacular Teatro Colon opera house won, and nearly 5,000 applicants entered a lottery to secure one of 12 wedding ceremonies conducted by a “pop-up” civil registry.) The program was institutionalized and now couples can request weddings at 24 landmark venues—including many of Buenos Aires’ most treasured parks, theaters, cultural centers and sporting facilities—as well as ‘private marriages’ in a location of their choosing. Other innovations created a better user experience for couples planning weddings: an online scheduling and registration system, an online video booth where friends and family can leave messages, the option to livestream ceremonies at some government locations, and ceremonies on evenings and weekends.
Most people rarely come face-to-face with local civil servants, so the encounters they do have are likely to form a lasting impression, for good or ill. Civil marriages can be uninspired, involving sterile bureaucratic forms and bland municipal rooms. This rigid, inconvenient bureaucratic experience is out of touch with what should be a celebratory, momentous family occasion. It also misses an opportunity to build goodwill with residents at an important moment in their lives.
How Did They Do It?
The City of Buenos Aires has taken creative steps to ensure that its customer service is appropriately calibrated to suit life’s most important occasions, or even brighten them. The most visible of these reforms is Buenos Aires Amor (aka BAmor,) an initiative of the Ministry of Government under Bruno Screnci Silva. According to the initiative’s website, “We want getting married to be agile and simple, and to include from the beginning the people who love you and will celebrate with you and your partner.”
The program has both media-friendly and user-friendly components. The “Marriage in Iconic Places” initiative was piloted in 2016 by civil-registry authorities in collaboration with their citizen-engagement colleagues. The city surveyed residents, via social media, on which of Buenos Aires’ many cultural attractions they would choose for a wedding. The Teatro Colon won, and nearly 5,000 people entered a lottery (promoted again through social media) to secure one of 12 wedding ceremonies. In the months after, the city staged dozens more of these “pop-up” civil registries throughout the city, including at the Teatro 25 de Mayo, the riverside Usina del Arte, the leafy Barrancas de Belgrano park and others. When an applicant was chosen in the lottery, a city representative would call his or her partner to ‘propose’ the wedding venue on the applicant’s behalf.
The city also issued an official regulation allowing its public officers to perform civil weddings outside of government offices. This enabled the city to offer multiple options for engaged couples:
- Through Marriage in Iconic Places, couples can schedule a wedding ceremony at some of the most beautiful indoor and outdoor places in Buenos Aires: the 25 de Mayo theater, Chinatown, the Marco del Pont cultural center, the Usina del Arte and more. For sports fans, there are the historic Gymnastics and Fencing Club and the Autodromo racetrack. The service costs 8,850 Argentine pesos (about $210 USD) and includes a free marriage album.
- Couples can request a ‘private marriage’ at a place of their choosing, also for a fee of 8,850 Argentine pesos. (This option was previously available for people with a physical condition preventing them from visiting the government office.) The place has to be clean and safe, and couples need to visit the closest civil-registry office to complete their paperwork. In order to comply with regulations regarding the right to make an objection, Civil Registry offices make public, on a daily basis, the list of marriages that will be held on that day.
- For couples choosing to get married at one of the civil registry’s 14 offices, the online BAmor portal has improved the experience of scheduling, preparing for and sharing a wedding ceremony. Couples can book a 30-minute wedding appointment and prepare their registration forms. They can invite guests to the BAmor video booth to record a message. The city installed webcams, microphones and WiFi at some civil registry locations so that ceremonies can be livestreamed. Finally, the city expanded hours to offer evening and weekend ceremonies.
How Is It Going?
- In July 2018, Marriage in Iconic Places celebrated its 300th wedding ceremony. These photogenic events tend to attract positive media coverage, and the city has leveraged that with special ceremonies at the Boca Juniors soccer stadium, Valentine’s Day weddings in a Japanese garden, and International Women’s Day weddings next to the Fountain of the Nereids. When an applicant is chosen by lottery, a city representative calls his or her partner to ‘propose’ the wedding venue on the applicant’s behalf.
- Keeping it local. Buenos Aires’ program is not for tourists or commuters. To be married in an iconic or private location, at least one of the parties must have an ID with a registered address in the city, and city officials hope that it introduces cultural institutions to new residents.
- Equal opportunity. The city has been deliberate about holding ‘Iconic Places’ weddings in every part of the city, to highlight the breadth and diversity of cultural assets.
- Proximity. Bringing government close to residents (cercania) is one of the core values professed by the city government under Mayor Rodríguez Larreta. It’s not always comfortable--one marriage official told a newspaper that although they are fun, the off-site wedding ceremonies are a challenge because public officers feel ‘exposed’ in a new way.