Fort Lauderdale Florida Temple. Source: Mormon Newsroom

No more ring ceremony for you!

For years, many have wondered why The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does not allow part-member families to hold a civil wedding and then permit the bride and groom to attend the temple immediately thereafter to get sealed. This practice is commonplace throughout the world because in most countries, the Church lacks civil authority to perform marriages.

However, the United States and a few other countries have a different arrangement, one where the Church has been granted authority to perform civil ceremonies in conjunction with the temple sealing. A one-stop shop for civil and eternal marriage. It’s nice. It certainly puts lots of emphasis on the day at the temple itself. And it’s also a perk available to a minority of Church members.

The past few months have seen the rumor/leak mill discuss whether the Church would change its policy to allow part- or non-member families the opportunity to see the actual, legal wedding. For many Latter-day Saints, denying their loved ones access to their wedding has been painful. For others in a similar situation, the pain and awkwardness have not been an issue. Every situation is different, to be sure. It’s none of our places to assume one way is better than another. For every, “My family understands why they can’t go in the temple, and they appreciate that this is so important to me,” there’s a, “My parents have been bitter for years that they couldn’t see my wedding.”

However, it appears that this past weekend, in some temple training meetings, workers were allegedly  informed that a change is, indeed, on the way, and in the United States, prospective spouses will need to be married civilly (at a courthouse or wherever) before heading to the temple for their sealing, requiring them to present their marriage certificate (not just a provisional, to-be-signed license) at the temple office.

To be clear, in the event this does indeed transpire, for couples wishing for the one-stop-shop, that would go out the window. Civil-then-temple would be the only recourse. It’s likely that if this is the case, then the process would surely follow what is done in other countries, allowing couples a window of time, based on proximity to a temple, to go and get the sealing done. If that window is missed, the usual year-long waiting period would presumably take effect.

And on a related noted, there’s a chance that bishops would no longer be allowed to perform civil ceremonies (though there’s some room to dispute this given the language around for-profit or non-profit clergy in evolving US law), nor would civil ceremonies be allowed on Church property (more likely; receptions are fine, just not the actual ceremony).

This is a welcome change for many if frustrating for some, and if it is truly coming, it is likely for two reasons:

  • Simple compassion or rethinking of the status quo. The Church feels it’s fine to let civil weddings happen before the sealing. No harm, no foul. Everyone wins.

Or more likely:

  • The battle for traditional marriage/for marriage equality (we’re covering our bias bases) will be decided in favor of the latter, and more sooner than later. While many of the fears of gay marriage opponents will not materialize, it’s a likely scenario that the Church refuses to recognize gay marriage and is thus no longer able to perform marriages under the law. So the only marriages the Church will perform thereafter are strictly religious ones that have nothing to do with state institutions.

Whether it’s out of expediency or clemency, the change, if announced, will allegedly take place sometime near the end of 2014 or the beginning of 2015.

To reiterate:

  • Actual, legal weddings will take place at civil institutions, not at the temple. This applies to everyone, even to multi-generational Mormon families with nary a card-lacker among them.
  • Temple sealings will not be recognized as a civil wedding under the law in the eyes of the state, at least not in the future. The Church could implement this policy while still retaining its ability to perform civil ceremonies, but better to be ahead of the change than to be forced to react to it.

Of course, none of this is official, and we are only working with the sources we have, so don’t hold our feet to the fire if something changes. We could just as well find out all of this is wrong wrong wrong, though even if these leaks are factually dubious, a change of this nature is likely inevitable, given the current political climate in the United States. Again, repeat: THIS IS NOT AN OFFICIAL ANNOUNCEMENT. We are merely conveying what has been shared. We are prophesying of nothing nor claiming to speak for the Church. We love the Church. Let’s make sure that’s clear.

What do you think about this potential seismic shift in the way temple weddings are conducted?

*Update – Church spokeshuman Dale Jones says that they are “unaware of any meetings where changes to temple marriage policies have been discussed.” This could be a definitive answer that no, nothing is happening, but it also just says they are “unaware.” While Church Public Affairs has been clear that it certainly does coordinate its remarks with the Brethren, this does not appear to be a statement that rules out the change entirely.

**Update Update – We talk about this a ton on this week’s podcast, which you can find here on our site, on iTunes or on Stitcher Radio.