SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints changed wedding rules Monday in hopes of preventing family members who aren’t church members from feeling excluded.
Couples who get married in civil ceremonies will no longer have to wait one year to do a temple wedding ceremony that only members in good standing can attend, the faith said in a news release .
Church leaders said it will allow “families to come together in love and unity,” but doesn’t lessen the temple ceremony the faith believes seals the couple for eternity.
Religious scholar Matthew Bowman said the old wedding rule was designed to encourage couples to get married in a temple and have a reception or “ring ceremony,” but sometimes created heartache for families with mixed religious affiliations.
The modification signals the latest change under the leadership of church President Russell M. Nelson, who has made a host of changes since taking over in January 2018. The 94-year-old former surgeon recently rescinded rules banning baptisms for children of gay parents and branding same-sex couples apostates subject to excommunication.
He has also launched a campaign calling on people to stop using the shorthand names “Mormon” and “LDS,” severed the faith’s ties with the Boy Scouts of America after a century, shortened Sunday worship by an hour and revised a sacred temple ceremony to give women a more prominent role.
At the heart of issue with weddings is a requirement that only members following the rules of the faith who are approved for “temple recommend” cards can worship inside temples.
Church leaders don’t disclose how many members have these permissions, but it’s believed to be less than half, said Bowman, an associate professor of history at Henderson State University in Arkadelphia, Arkansas.
That means even some mostly Latter-day Saint families were left with family members who can’t attend the temple ceremonies. The receptions, “or ring ceremonies,” that occur afterward aren’t supposed to resemble a wedding, leaving those left out of the temple feeling like they missed the most important moment, Bowman said.
“There were feelings of exclusion, feelings of separations of families,” Bowman said. “Many people experience sadness because that.”
Bowman predicted that more church members will have a civil ceremony first with more of the trappings of a traditional American wedding, such as the bride walking down the aisle and an exchange of vows. Those traditions were not part of the “ring ceremonies,” he said.
Church leaders said Monday they still want the civil ceremonies to be “simple and dignified” to keep the focus on the temple ceremony.
The rule change will mostly impact people in the United States and Canada because church members in many foreign countries are already required by law to get married civilly first before a temple ceremony, the faith said.
The full release can be seen below:
The First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced Monday that a civil marriage between a man and a woman will no longer necessitate waiting a year for that couple to be married (or sealed) in a temple. The change means Latter-day Saint couples can look forward to a temple marriage as soon as their circumstances permit.
The new policy sets a single global standard for Latter-day Saints around the world. The Church has observed this practice for many years in more than half of the countries where the worldwide faith resides. In those countries, couples are required by law to marry civilly first.
“Where possible, leaders should encourage couples to be both married and sealed in the temple,” says a First Presidency letter to Church leaders around the world. “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.” The First Presidency also stated, “This change in policy should not be interpreted as lessening the emphasis on the temple sealing. The sealing of a husband and wife in the temple is of eternal significance and a crowning experience on the covenant path.”
Church spokeswoman Irene Caso, who is from Madrid, Spain, shared her excitement and personal experience related to this new policy. “In 2005, my husband and I were married. We had a beautiful civil ceremony on the afternoon of December 15 at a city hall. Later that day, in a more private setting, we were sealed in the Madrid Spain Temple. After going to the temple, we all celebrated with music and dance. Most of my immediate family and friends are not members of our faith, so it was especially meaningful for us to have them witness our civil union and help them feel included in the festivities of the day. These changes announced today will bring the same happy and memorable experience to many families throughout the Church.”
The Church asks that these civil marriage ceremonies be simple and dignified. Couples may use chapels owned by the Church for these ceremonies. Regardless of location, the temple sealing should be the central focus of the marriage and provide the spiritual basis on which the couple begins life together.
Newly baptized Latter-day Saints will continue to wait a year from the date of their confirmation to be married in a temple. This aligns with the Church’s long-standing policy of allowing new converts to gain a greater understanding of their faith which includes learning about the sacredness of a temple and the sacraments, or ordinances, that take place in temples.
During that year, new members are encouraged to obtain a limited-use temple recommend that allows them to serve in a temple baptistry. The Church also encourages new members to learn about their ancestors and gather their names for temple service.