Guest Post: Separation of Sealings and Marriage
by Holly Castillo
This morning as I opened Instagram I was immediately shown a picture of a couple in wedding attire published by @churchnewsroom. The caption explained that as of today the policy requiring a legally married couple in the United States to wait one year before being allowed to enter the holy temple and perform the religious ceremony of being sealing is rescinded. The phrase that stood out to me most is this: “Where a licensed marriage is not permitted in the temple, or when a temple marriage would cause parents or immediate family members to feel excluded, a civil ceremony followed by a temple sealing is authorized.” This is important because for the first time, the Church now sees excluding family members from a wedding as a legitimate reason for allowing immediate sealings after weddings, on par with legalities of countries which do not allow legal marriages to be conducted in private.
Growing up in the Church “legal marriage” equaled “temple sealing”; there were no distinctions made. All those lovely Young Women’s lessons which said, “When you get married in the temple” never pointed out that there are actually other options out there, one of which is being married legally first and sealed later on. As much as the Church has wanted marriages and sealings to be one and the same, they are not by definition. A marriage as of the early 1900’s is a legal practice, whereas a sealing in the temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is solely and strictly religious in nature.
Despite the lessons of the Church which seemed to not want to even present “marriage then sealing” as an option, I knew it was from an early age, because that’s what my parents had done. My parents were legally married according to the laws of the land in 1988, but not sealed “for time and all eternity” in the temple until later. However, even though this was an option, a qualifier was still in place. If a couple chose for whatever reason to be married legally outside of the temple in the United States, they would then have to wait one calendar year to enter the temple and perform the sacred ordinance of sealing. Despite knowing this particular fact from a young age, I was still over 18 when I found out that outside of the United States this isn’t even an issue.
Through my internet researching of Latter-day Saint weddings and traditions, I came to learn that in most other countries outside of the United States, due to laws, a legal marriage cannot be performed in private space (like a temple) and must be done in public. Because of that reason, the most common wedding practice for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is to hold a legal wedding ceremony with all family in attendance, and later that day or week or whenever, head to the temple to be sealed — no year waiting period required.
So why the difference? Why were couples in the United States being punished for choosing to marry legally outside of the temple? I could find no formal or direct reason, other than this implied reason: “If you have the opportunity to be married legally inside the Temple, and choose not to, you are now a sinner.” Since couples outside of the United States didn’t have an option, no sin was possible! But because we were “blessed” in the United States to have the government recognize temple sealings also as legal marriages, then “Why on Earth would you choose differently?!” I, and many others could think of many reasons. The main reason being that to attend a sealing ceremony in the temple, one has to first be a member of the Church, and also a worthy member with an ecclesiastically endorsed “recommend” to prove it. Any family or friends who were not members of the Church, or who were not worthy, and anyone under the age of 18 — siblings, cousins, etc. — could not witness the marriage union inside of the temple, thus being forced to wait outside to greet the couple when they exited.
And despite these very valid reasons for not wanting to exclude family members from their wedding, I’ve still heard every excuse in the book from orthodox Church members trying to explain why a “temple marriage plus sealing” is somehow more righteous than a “legal marriage then sealing.” I’ve heard, “What if your spouse dies in that year before you’re sealed?! Then you’re separated forever!” Except… we have work for the dead for exactly that reason. I’ve heard, “It doesn’t matter if your family will feel excluded, you’re showing them that you put God first and setting a good example- so therefore they will be interested in the Church and join!” Hint: excluding parents from seeing their children married does not make them interested in the Church; it makes them resent it.
I have firsthand knowledge and experience that other than the one-year waiting period, a “legal marriage then sealing” is exactly the same as a “temple marriage plus sealing”. My husband and I were legally married in a wedding ceremony in 2013. We chose to do this for various reasons, but the main one being that because my husband is a convert to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and the only member in his family, we did not even entertain the idea of excluding the entirety of his family from witnessing our wedding. And in fact, our Young Single Adult Ward bishop even officiated our heathen wedding, where my mother walked me down the aisle, we read handwritten vows, and we were pronounced man and wife legally and lawfully.
Later, in 2016 we completed all the steps to go to the temple and perform the sealing ceremony. I wore a wedding dress, I got ready in the bride’s room, and when the officiator began to read, he started to pronounce us legally married — because he had forgotten that we were already legally married, and we had to remind him. This showed me an important fact — that the sealing ceremony is not any different if you do it while already legally married or in conjunction with a legal marriage. The wording and ceremony is exactly the same, other than the officiant pronouncing you legally married and signing the marriage license. Despite what orthodox members, Young Women’s lessons, and social church stigma told me, separating our legal marriage and temple sealing into two events made us no less worthy in God’s eyes. We weren’t “sort of sealed,” or “less than sealed” because we had a legal wedding first.
Unfortunately, our experience is rare. More often than not Latter-day Saint couples in the United States go to the temple to be married and sealed simultaneously, inevitably leaving someone who loves them behind — all because they’ve been told basically since birth that it’s “the right way to do things.” In a Church where family is said to be so important, this practice has led to more heartbreak than I can count. Many couples who have desired a traditional legal wedding where family was included, or where a parent could walk them down the aisle have even been told their desires were evil by church leaders or fellow members.
So, while I breathe a sigh of relief that this policy is no more, I mourn my friends who had their wedding day marred by someone missing, because they were told they were doing “the right thing.” They are mourning, and I mourn with them.
Holly Castillo is a lifelong member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She is a wedding photographer in Southern California, very familiar with various religious and cultural practices regarding weddings.