The Human Cost of Mormon
Temple Marriage Policies
by Orin Ryssman
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
- 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
- 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
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.
Orin Ryssman, a computer professional at
Colorado State University, lives in Fort Collins, Colorado with his wife
and two daughters, Jenna (age 12) and Megan (age 8).