The Human Cost of Mormon Temple Marriage Policies
When a marriage takes place in an LDS temple, non-Mormon relatives of the couple and Mormon relatives who do not hold a "temple recommend," may not attend the ceremony. Of all the peculiar policies that represent orthodox LDS positions of faith and practice, this one is perhaps the least known about by those outside of the Mormon Church. Yet this practice, breaking up families on the one day they ought to be most united, is the most barbaric. And the worst part is that those who are not members of the LDS Church too often get blindsided by it; they don't understand until it is too late to do anything.
It is a policy whose consequences extend beyond the wedding day. The policy is stated clearly in an official LDS manual as follows:
Who May Attend a Temple Marriage
Only members who have valid recommends and have received their endowment may attend a temple marriage. Couples should invite only family members and close friends to be present for a temple marriage. …
Special Meeting for Guests, Who Do Not Have Temple Recommends
A couple may arrange with their bishop to hold a special meeting for relatives and friends who do not have temple recommends. This meeting provides an opportunity for those who cannot enter a temple to feel included in the marriage and to learn something of the eternal nature of the marriage covenant. The meeting may include a prayer and special music, followed by the remarks of a priesthood leader. No ceremony is performed, and no vows are exchanged.
No other marriage ceremony should be performed following a temple marriage.
(General Handbook of Instructions, Book 1 Stake Presidencies and Bishoprics, p. 70. Published by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah, 1998 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved.)
It is interesting to note that the Encyclopedia of Mormonism in its sections on eternal marriage and temple ceremonies makes no mention of this exclusionary policy.
In the past, when LDS temples were few and far between, there was not the emphasis that there is now on temple marriages as the only acceptable way for truly committed LDS couples. Parents and other family members and friends who are not members, cannot attend the wedding. However, this is not limited to non-members. When I was married, my two younger siblings, both LDS members in good standing, could not attend my wedding. Why? Simply put, they were not old enough to have received their "endowments". This is not particularly problematic due to the fact that nearly all active members are aware of and give assent to this policy.
Where problems arise is when a bride or groom’s family is not LDS. Since I have both witnessed this firsthand and read or had related to me secondhand accounts I can say that they go pretty much like this:
- LDS girl meets LDS boy, and they fall in love.
- LDS girl and LDS boy decide they want to get married.
- In keeping with the religious faith of each, they decide they want to be married “forever” in an LDS temple sealing because anything else would be second best.
- LDS girl and LDS boy announce their decision to their respective parents.
- LDS boys' parents are delighted. They know that as members of the LDS Church in good standing, with LDS Temple recommends, they will be able to attend the wedding.
- LDS girls' parents are emotionally shell-shocked, having been told that since they are not members of the LDS Church, they will not be allowed to attend the wedding. The parents of the bride-to-be will still be expected to pick up the tab for all the celebrating that will take place afterwards though. They are not happy at all about this arrangement, since they raised their daughter within a devout Protestant faith, fully expecting and looking forward to the day when they would witness her take her wedding vows.
Generally speaking this is where a local LDS leader gets involved in an effort to “smooth over” feelings. This LDS leader will explain what he believes regarding LDS temples, that only in them can couples be united in marriage eternally, not “until death do us part.” He will explain that while you may have raised the now LDS girl with Protestant teachings, she has embraced the LDS religion and that the highest good is to be married in an LDS temple. The non-member parents leave the meeting with a sick, sinking feeling in the pit of their stomachs. They don't know what to do so they turn to their local pastor. He listens and observes that he would be delighted to perform the marriage, and that all that are invited by the bride, the groom and their parents will be allowed to witness the wedding ... nobody will be excluded.
This seems sensible enough to the non-LDS parents. They meet with their daughter and soon to be son-in-law, and propose a solution to this situation. How about if they get married by the pastor and then they can go and get “sealed” in an LDS temple? That way all who are invited may attend, says the father of the bride. Seems sensible enough to the bride, after all she has only been a member a little more than a year.
The groom, on the other hand, gets that same sick, sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach, thinking back to all those stories he heard growing up in the LDS Church. What stories? Oh, you know, the ones where young couples failed to accept the counsel of LDS Church leaders, especially the Prophet, to only marry in an LDS temple, since only in an LDS temple could marriage be made eternal. And what if they decided to get married in a way that includes the bride’s parents and then later get sealed in an LDS temple? There is always the story of the young couple getting married outside the LDS temple and then before they can go and get sealed in an LDS temple, they are killed in a terrible car accident.
At this point the father of the bride has probably told the future son-in-law that he sees this as an issue of obedience to one of the Ten Commandments, which leaves the future son-in-law a bit bewildered. All he knows is the "commandment" to "follow the (LDS) Prophet, he knows the way". The father of the girl directs the LDS boy to Exodus 20:12, “Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you.” The father then expresses for the first time his disappointment that his daughter has rejected her religious upbringing, adopted another religious faith and one that stands to divide the brides' family on the single day that they should be most united. And as if to add “insult to injury” the bride’s parents will be expected to pick up the tab for all of the celebrating that will take place after the LDS temple wedding that they and their other children have been excluded from attending. This, the father of the bride-to-be explains to LDS boy, is the very definition of bad manners, is impolite, and not the best way to start with any potential in-laws.
The seriousness of the father of the bride-to-be impresses the LDS boy, so he returns to his LDS bishop to see if there is a way out of all of this unpleasantness. The LDS bishop patiently listens and then explains the orthodox LDS position that if the young man has sufficient faith he will then trust in the words of the LDS prophets and apostles and get married and sealed for “time and all eternity” in an LDS temple. Anything else will be settling for “second best”. The LDS boy listens and decides that he is persuaded that his future father-in-law has it right, i.e. all of this boils down to a matter of whether or not he will “honor” his father-in-law or not.
It is at this point that the LDS bishop lets the “other shoe” drop and announces to LDS boy that should he get married anywhere else, even by a Justice of the Peace, he and his wife will be required to wait one year before they can go to an LDS temple and get sealed. Now this perplexes the LDS boy since he served an LDS mission in Brazil and distinctly remembered young couples going from a church chapel where the marriage is performed right next door to the LDS temple to get “sealed”. The LDS bishop explains that in many other countries a public place is required by law for a marriage license to be valid; in those instances the LDS Church makes accommodations to the circumstances in the particular host country. In the United States, thank goodness, the First Amendment protects everyone from this blatant form of discrimination. While it is not stated, it is clearly implied that the one year wait is a means to coerce the young couple into only having a temple marriage, and if not successful, punishes them for not complying. What is this young man to do?
I explained just the sort of situation above to my wife who is a committed LDS and ended by saying that this practice is barbaric. She gave no argument, and only said that I had given her something to think about. I hope so; our daughters are now 8 and 12 and with the passage of each day I come a little closer to that fateful day. What will I do? Well, I think you know by the narrative I have written what I will do ... or at least I think I do. Will I have the courage of my convictions to take a stand? I think I do ... then again that is still a few years out.