December 02, 2002 12:00 PM

Though they have been together seven years and are raising two children, Richard Gere and Carey Lowell have never seemed in any big hurry to tie the knot. “What Carey and I have is a marriage,” Gere said in May. “We don’t feel we need to have a piece of paper that says so.”

Having a wedding ceremony to prove the point, though, is a whole other matter. On Nov. 9, Gere, 53, PEOPLE’S 1999 Sexiest Man Alive, and Lowell, 41, a former star of Law & Order, stood in a field of their 27-acre Westchester County, N.Y., estate, which abuts a nature preserve, and exchanged I do’s. No Buddhist vows for Gere, no wedding gown for Lowell (the bride wore slacks under a long top; the groom had on an overcoat). And no guests except for Homer, the couple’s 2-year-old son, and Hannah, 12, Lowell’s daughter from her first marriage, to actor-director Griffin Dunne (with whom she shares custody). “It was just a short little civil ceremony,” says Pound Ridge town clerk Suzanne Beatty, who officiated.

Among the non-invitees: Gere’s parents, Homer, 80, and Doris, 78, who nonetheless told PEOPLE, “We’re ecstatic.” The private rite seemed to suit Gere (previously wed to model Cindy Crawford) and Lowell, a couple who usually shy away from the spotlight. “I tend not to go to a lot of premieres because I find the pressure too great,” Lowell said last year.

While friends say she and Gere felt no urgency to formalize their union now, “it just seemed to be the right time for both of them,” says one. “They are very, very happy.”

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