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to wait one year before being allowed to enter the holy temple and perform the religious ceremony of being sealing is rescinded.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.

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10 Responses

  1. EmilyB says:

    Thank you for mourning with us. This change is another slap in the face for those of us who were told we had to cast our loved ones to the wayside (not allowed to attend our wedding) in order to make it to the celestial kingdom with the new family we were building with our spouses. It didn’t feel right at the time, but with childlike trust we put our faith in leaders and it turns out that leaders just make this up as they go because now they are reversing it and letting people have weddings to include those outcast relatives. But me, I can’t ever get back the excluded loved ones who have died since my wedding! This is grossly unfair and ruinous to mental health, the way Mormon leaders keep jerking us around. Gays, blacks, newlyweds, we are just pawns in their powergame of making and then reversing policies and it needs to stop. I am ready to go my own way and just let God tell me what is right, but I have too many loved ones in Mormonism who tell me that to not follow these old men would be spiritual suicide–my loved ones would disparage me if I left (I’ve seen them do it to others for leaving), so I’m forced to follow them to keep my family happy. That kind of pressure to stay feels like a cult and I am miserable here.

  2. Anna says:

    I am glad for this change. It is way past time for it. But once again, no apology for the people hurt by the way the policy used to be. No recognition that what they were doing tore families apart and caused marriages to get off to a bad start because family resented them putting church before family. It wasn’t even that we all were putting God before family because obviously God didn’t need it to be that way.

    But, I am glad they have made this change. Maybe someday they will change their policy of not making apologies😉

  3. DT says:

    My wedding day was a bit of a train wreck due to family and friend dynamics and who could come in and who couldn’t even though some of them had to travel hours to the temple. We were also forbidden from doing a ‘ring exchange’ or anything resembling a wedding. I was so stressed that I came down with the flu.

    I was told too that wanting to have a civil wedding would mean that I was not living the higher law and I was not being obedient to God’s will. Naively, I just went along with all of it, including having a paper white wedding dress because I didn’t want to be shamed by the temple workers and prevented from wearing my dress like other women I knew. No one told me it would be covered up anyway and I could have worn a more colourful or cream dress and just worn a normal temple dress for the sealing.

    The marriage is over now but all of this and being pushed to marry quickly (5 months after meeting) or we wouldn’t be given a recommend, didn’t start us off in the best way.

    • Martine says:

      What? Denied a recommend if you didn’t marry quickly? I’ve never heard of such a thing—but that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen, of course. Power hungry men!

      Hubby and I had an 8 month engagement at BYU that raised eyebrows but we’d barely known each other two months when we got engaged. And we made it!

  4. Risa says:

    This is a great policy change, but I don’t foresee it changing much. People will still be pressured to do it “the right way” by not having a civil ceremony first. It will still be a litmus test of faithfulness.

    But for others, like me, who have non-member family members, who don’t want to have to choose between the church and their family, or put strain on family relationships because those members have to be excluded, this is a blessing. A blessing that has come far too late for many people and family relationships. I agonized in my teenage/young adult years between the choice to be married in the temple without my parents there or to have a civil ceremony. In the end I chose my family. 20 years later I have no regrets about that decision.

  5. Charlene says:

    An interesting point to make, is that Section 101 of the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants says the following about marriage:

    “According to the custom of all civilized nations, marriage is regulated by laws and ceremonies: therefore we believe, that all marriages in this church of Christ of Latter Day Saints, should be solemnized in a public meeting, or feast, prepared for that purpose: and that the solemnization should be performed by a presiding high priest, high priest, bishop, elder, or priest, not even prohibiting those persons who are desirous to get married, of being married by other authority…Inasmuch as this church of Christ has been reproached with the crime of fornication, and polygamy: we declare that we believe, that one man should have one wife; and one woman, but one husband, except in the case of death, when either is at liberty to marry again.”

    You can read this in the Joseph Smith Papers.

    This section, and many others were removed decades later, and some were added (such as D&C 132), and all of this after the martyrdom. These deletions and additions were for the new 1876 version, sanctioned by Brigham Young. Why even bother to have the original section 101 in the first place, if this wasn’t really the law of marriage that Joseph intended? I could present a lot of other questions here, but that’s a good place to start.

  6. PP67 says:

    Twenty-Seven years ago it broke my heart not being able to have my non-member mother see me get married (my father was deceased). I cried knowing she was excluded and sitting out front in the temple in a waiting room. Yet, she was so gracious about it because she loved me and wanted to be supportive. That stupid policy (not commandment) has hurt so many people over the years! I can never get my wedding day back again. I didn’t grow up in the LDS church. Being married in the temple was not my dream. My dream of walking down the aisle of a church with all my friends and family present was taken from me. I was told the sacrifice I was making for God was more important. What did Elder Uchtdorf say a few years back “forget not the difference between a good sacrifice and a foolish one”? In the eternities what does it matter if you are married and sealed in the temple at the same time, or you are married and then later sealed in the temple? I am so grateful this policy is FINALLY changing. Maybe there will be less broken hearts now.

  7. B says:

    I hated my temple wedding. I wish I’d been brave enough to insist on a civil wedding, like I wanted. Weddings should be unifying, supportive, celebratory, and fun. Sealings are supposed to be intimate and sacred. I think trying to combine them is problematic.

    My temple wedding felt businesslike and impersonal. All the people most excited about the marriage had to wait outside, whereas for those that held recommends (our parents and random family friends I didn’t know well), it was just the usual routine. I had to get ready alone, wishing my younger sisters could be with me and help me. I didn’t feel special or comfortable in my borrowed ceremonial clothes, sitting through a ceremony where I was almost completely silent and most people barely knew me. I couldn’t help but think of the unfamiliar stake president who, earlier that week, had asked me tons of graphic sexual questions and then made a dramatic show of how reluctant he was to give me a recommend, as if he didn’t think I was really worthy. And I couldn’t stop thinking about how disturbed I had been my endowment ceremony a few days earlier, which had shaken my faith like nothing before and made me feel like the fraud that stake president had suspected I was. Also, annoyingly, the vibe I got from a lot of LDS attendees seemed to be more “congratulations to your parents for raising a daughter who didn’t have sex before marriage” than “congratulations on starting a new life together.” Separating the ceremonies would have made the whole thing much less confusing and stressful, and let me feel more capable of dealing with each experience.

    • Anna says:

      I really like the points you bring up. A wedding should be about celebrating the couple’s new life together. Period. It should be shared by everyone who cares about the couple and should give everyone the message to support this new family. No one who needs to support the new family should be excluded. Excluding them gives them the message that they are not needed to support the new family. What a terrible message to give to the parents of the bride of groom. “This new family doesn’t need you.” It should be happy. Not judgmental about past choices. It is a new beginning that should never be darkened by past choices. . …even if the bride is nine months pregnant. You are there to celebrate, not shame people.

      I also hated my temple marriage. It was not about me and my new husband, but about the church. All about the church from how well we obeyed church rules to get a recommend to how well our families obeyed church rules to get a recommend. Before the wedding I consoled myself with the idea that it was also about God. But after my endowment and covenanting to give everything to the CHURCH for the building up of Zion, I realized that no, it isn’t even about God, only about the church. As if we are both being married, not to each other, but the instructional church. There was nothing about love or respect, in the actual wedding, only obedience to my husband during the endowment. It was like an assembly line with the number of weddings. I didn’t dress in the bride’s room as it as already full. I dressed in a locker room reminiscent of high school gym. Then all the brides were marched through in lock step to get our new name, go to a short lecture with the temple matron, in which there was no time for questions. My mother tried to ask something that I had asked her and was brushed off in an impatient way. Then all twenty of us brides were marched into the endowment room, where we sat with our almost husband across the room. At the veil, they even had trouble finding the correct groom for some of us. The thought crossed my mind about what if they put the wrong guy on the other side of the veil? I was traumatized by the content of the endowment. The penalties were still in the ceremony and promising to have my life taken before reveling the secret was more about Gadianton robbers and forbidden secret combinations than about Jesus Christ who it was supposed to be about. I was horrified, but there was no one to ask and no time to ask as were were whisked away to a sealing room. The whole day was a nightmare. Weddings should not be like that.

    • I have similar feelings B. The sad thing is that I didn’t even know I had the option of having a civil wedding and then doing the ceremony. My sealing was full of my husband’s PARENT’S friends who were cynical about us getting married anyway, while almost all of my family (who had all traveled pretty far) were outside. We had a little ring ceremony the day after the sealing but it felt very empty. Like most LDS people, I had been so conditioned to believe that a temple wedding was paramount to success or failure in the eternities that I did it without question. I am realizing now how self-righteous I became in order to justify it too. I am glad the policy has changed, but I can’t help but think “too little, too late”, particularly when there is no remorse for the things people went through previously. I know I am just one of many.

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