The LDS Church’s sealing ceremony in which couples are bound together is a defining moment—but all weddings are defining moments for mothers, fathers and the children they “give away.” That’s why a trio of Mormon brothers have begun a polite but sincere lobbying effort to ask church leaders to change a policy that says that if members choose a civil wedding—one that can be enjoyed by all family members, Mormon or not—they must then wait a year to be sealed in the temple.
While collecting stories about the wedding experiences of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for his blog, RationalFaiths.com, Paul Barker noticed a marked difference in inclusiveness between LDS weddings that happen abroad and those that happen in the United States and Canada.
In most countries, LDS temple weddings—which can be attended only by those who hold active temple recommends from the church—aren’t legal marriages, and in those countries, the church does not require that members who have a civil wedding wait a year before getting sealed in the temple.
Barker noticed that wedding stories from abroad always talk of positive, inclusive, big family celebrations. He also noticed a trend in the wedding stories from the United States and Canada: Family members unable to attend the temple sealing often feel left out from the celebration.
“With the stories we collected in the U.S., there were a lot more hard feelings of exclusion, whether that was from parents that weren’t LDS or children that weren’t of age,” Barker says.
Barker and his brothers are now collecting stories about temple-wedding experiences for their website, FamilyFirstWeddings.com, which they hope will garner the attention of church leaders and encourage them to rethink the waiting policy.
An LDS Church spokesman would not return comment for this story.
One story came from Clara Molina, a 23-year-old student and second-generation Mormon who lives in Madrid, Spain. Though her family members are mostly non-Mormon, she attended high school with a lot of Mormons, by her standards—nine fellow members.
When Clara’s close friend was married, all of her extended family gathered for a traditional wedding feast and celebration and, later that day, all drove out to the temple.
“I think it’s beautiful that even if your beliefs are different, the people who are important in your life can be there,” Molina tells City Weekly. She says non-LDS relatives felt included at the civil wedding, and while everyone was waiting at the temple, she also had an opportunity to talk to them more about the significance of the temple ceremony. But pursuing a little missionary work isn’t the point, she says.
“The point is that families are together,” Molina says. “My friends and me, we are second-generation [members]; most of our family isn’t in the church.”
Some LDS members will hold a ring ceremony after a temple wedding, which mimics some aspects of a traditional wedding, though the church discourages any exchanging of vows, and the LDS bishop who presides over the gathering often peppers his remarks by noting that the real ceremony happened in the temple.
“They are not able to do any sort of meaningful vows or anything,” Barker says, and “the people that aren’t members can see that.” He says that it’s easy for LDS members to forget that the ring ceremony is the only way nonmember parents or other families can mark the special occasion.
Barker says that while he doesn’t want to take away from the sanctity of the temple ceremony, there are certainly inconsistencies in the policy even beyond the fact that church members in countries that don’t recognize temple marriages don’t have the one-year waiting period imposed on them.
If a couple gets civilly married in the United States and both spouses are temple-worthy during the year waiting period, “you can go to the temple and do sealing work for other people—just not yourself,” Barker says. “That usually strikes people as odd.”
Mike Barker, who also runs the blog, points out, however, that it’s not hard to understand why the church has stressed the temple ceremony over and above secular ceremonies.
“For Mormons, salvation is not just an individual thing, but very much a communal thing,” Mike says. “When we go to the temple, they aren’t just binding me to my wife but to my wife’s parents and to her grandparents; they’re binding her to my parents and binding us to our children in the future.”
Nevertheless, Mike points out, the time-limit policy is not doctrinal, and the church may be unintentionally dividing families on what should be a special day.
“As the church continues to expand, LDS members will have non-LDS family members—it’s a missionary church,” Mike says. “We go and actively seek members, and that means there will be a good chance someone will be excluded from a wedding.”
The Barkers have collected Mormon wedding stories from around the world, but one that hits close to home is that of Mike’s mother-in-law, Patty Williams.
Williams converted to the church after attending Brigham Young University, where she met her husband. The couple got married in 1966, and Williams made the decision to have a civil wedding first so her mother could attend the ceremony. The ceremony wasn’t without stress, though Williams laughs about the issues now: The bishop who conducted the civil wedding wanted her to have the ceremony in the Scout room of a local chapel, and did not want the wedding march played. Williams compromised and walked down the aisle to a church hymn, but had the ceremony in the chapel.
“I was raised thinking that when I got married, it would be a family affair,” Williams says. “That weighed heavy on me, and so I couldn’t get married and not have my own mother at the wedding.”
Paul and his brothers are hopeful that they can get their message across, though they’re quick to point out they are not running a petition, but are simply trying to pass along wedding stories—the inclusive ones and the exclusive ones—to leadership.
“We can go to our stake presidents and go through the chain of command, if you will,” says Paul, who hopes the stories might resonate through the church leadership. “We’re not demanding change, we’re not demanding anything—what we’re asking is, ‘Please take this to the Lord and ask.’ ”