HORSE CAVE — Tom Chaney has been performing weddings since the early 1960s.
Chaney, an ordained minister, is the proprietor of The Bookstore in Horse Cave.
The first wedding ceremony the 82-year-old performed was in 1962 on the campus of Baylor University in Waco, Texas. The couple he married was his sister, Ann Matera's, college roommate and her fiance´. The wedding took place on the day the bride and Matera graduated from college.
Chaney enjoys performing wedding ceremonies. He will jokingly tell people he likes doing it so much because of the payment he gets in return for his services.
Chaney charges $40 to perform a wedding ceremony, but in the beginning he didn't charge couples to marry them.
“My first fee was a gallon of good whiskey. That got started when I married Randy and Jane Cochran up at Rabbit Hash,” he said. “He gave me a gallon of whiskey for doing it. After a while, especially around here, I realized that people's taste in whiskey was not as good as mine, so I changed it to money. I charge $40. Of course if they are married for 80 years that's only 50 cents a year.”
Most of the people who ask him to perform their weddings are people who cannot be married by their conservative ministers because they are either divorced, have been living together, had a child out of wedlock or are of the same sex.
Chaney has performed weddings all across the state and country, and at least one overseas. He has also performed weddings in caves, restaurants and even his own bookstore.
He gave the first couple to get married in the bookstore options.
“I told them they had a choice here. You could be married in romance. You could be married in mystery, or you could be married in horror,” he said.
Chaney was referring to the various sections of the bookstore — romance, mystery and horror.
He traveled to Turkey once to perform a wedding for his first cousin's son who had married a man from Cameroon in an informal ceremony in England.
“They wanted a ceremony with their friends,” he said.
The couple got married in a small cafe on the Asian side of the Bosporus.
It was the farthest he had ever traveled to perform a wedding, and because his cousin paid for his airline ticket and gave him a place to stay, Chaney did not charge for the wedding.
One couple wanted to get married outdoors in the northern part of Hart County. Chaney suffered an injury at the wedding that led him to using a walker.
“I tripped over a root and screwed up my back and my walking,” he said.
Chaney sat in a lawn chair and performed the wedding. Afterwards, they brought him home.
Chaney ended up spending five days in the hospital, plus some time at a rehabilitation facility in Elizabethtown trying to recover from the injury received during the outdoor wedding.
“While I was in the hospital, there was already a wedding I had scheduled for a couple from somewhere in the North,” he said. “They were going to come down here to get married. I didn't have a phone number for them and I was in the hospital. They came here and was really upset that I wasn't here on the day I said I was going to be.”
Chaney asked the couple to come to the hospital, which they did.
“I cornered two nurses for witnesses and married them in my hospital room,” he said.
Chaney has also performed the wedding for friend he went to graduate school with at the University of Kentucky. The wedding occurred in the 1970s in Midway.
He went on to perform the couple's daughter's wedding on the eastern shore of Maryland. He also presided over the father of the bride's funeral several years later in Lexington.
In 2015, Chaney performed his first wedding for a same sex couple in Kentucky. It took place in his bookstore in Horse Cave the day after the U.S. Supreme Court legalized gay marriage.
“By the end of that first day, a couple had gone to the clerk in Hart County. They had been living together for 15 years and they got a marriage license and I married them in here the next day. I've done several of those,” Chaney said.
He agreed to perform the wedding because he said he realized that “... we, gay people, we're getting discriminated against less and less all along and so for that reason it kind of was a joyous occasion.”
Hart County Clerk Lisa Sanders said her office has referred people who wanted to get married to Chaney on occasion.
Chaney does not give couples advice.
“They've made a decision. They can live with it. The clerk has said they meet all the requirements. That's the clerk's decision based on their decision,” he said. “All I do is have a fairly brief ceremony.”
Chaney does not read from the Bible in performing wedding ceremonies. He does not do a religious wedding ceremony.
“In the ceremony I use, I use about four or five lines of a Wendell Berry poem. … Two stories fumbling to meet and become as one story,” he said.
The poem is titled “The Blue Robe.”
“I keep working on the wedding ceremony,” Chaney said.
The wedding ceremonies that Chaney performs “are beautiful,” Matera said. “They really are. He's always careful to include the families and whoever comes to the wedding in it that you are marrying people in front of all these people and you're making these vows in front of all of these people.”
Chaney has never turned anyone down who wanted him to perform their wedding ceremony.
“The money rule applies,” he said, laughing. “I've threatened to lock the doors so nobody can escape until the vows are said and I will not sign the marriage certificate until I get money in hand.”
He's also never had anyone to stand up and object to a couple getting married.
“The most common element is the fact that they have been married before,” he said, adding the record number of wedding between one couple is nine. “Once in a while, I will get one where neither have been married.”
Chaney has never been married.
“I've never found a man that would have me,” he said. “I asked a friend once to marry me and she said, 'no,' and that was the best thing she ever did.”
There will come a time when he will no longer perform wedding ceremonies.
“I'll die one of these days and it's hard to do it afterwards,” he said, laughing.
Chaney enjoys performing wedding ceremonies and said it's not something he will likely give up.
“Not when there's $40 involved,” he said, still laughing.