LDS Discussions Blog
Unintended Consequences of the Civil Marriage Announcement (May 7, 2019)
One of the most important foundations of the LDS church is the concept of a temple marriage. Children are taught from primary that the goal of boys are to prepare to be righteous priesthood holders and that women need to be worthy to marry one in the temple.
That might be a bit simplistic, but the church's teachings are preparing youth to stay in the church and ultimately get married and sealed in the temple. Until yesterday, the church went out of their way to make it difficult to stray from this plan by enforcing a 'one year waiting period' on any couple that had a civil marriage prior to a temple marriage. With the church now "authorizing" civil marriages for members and removing the one year waiting period, it creates new opportunities for members to include their family on the big day.
I personally had a civil marriage and was subject to the one year waiting period as my entire family has never been in the Mormon church and I was not about to get married without them there. My wife was kind enough to agree to this as her family was entirely LDS, so a civil marriage was not exactly something they were likely thrilled about.
But for many members of the LDS church, civil marriage was not a viable option before yesterday's announcement. There is a lot of pressure to obey the church's teachings (perhaps that's an understatement), and getting married in the temple is still the official teaching of the church with the new exemptions of "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."
While this change is a positive one for members of the church, it is going to have unintended consequences as well. I don't want to spend too much time on this post, but I wanted to outline some of those consequences I've already seen members (and ex-Mormons) discussing:
1. Creation of Classes within Mormonism: Some people might use the term "virtue signaling" here, but I've already seen comments from some on social media that have declared their kids are still expected to get temple marriages, they won't pay a dime on a civil ceremony for their kids, and the church should not be bending over backwards for those who have left.
And while this might seem petty and superficial, there will be pressure on members to be married in the temple even if they'd rather have a civil marriage where they can use the word "love" in the ceremony and enjoy the presence of their family and friends. Again, I've already seen comments about those planning weddings effectively doing a pro and con list of a civil wedding vs a temple wedding, and the feeling of 'shame' for doing a civil marriage is weighing on many who would otherwise opt for a fun, love oriented civil wedding with everyone included.
This can be seen when looking at the stigma that comes with being an early returning missionary, the 'net vs gross' tithing payments, having pioneer heritage vs being a more recent convert, or even when people can tell you're not wearing garments on a hot summer day (that's a real thing as creepy as it sounds). Every organization has these issues to some extent, but this policy change will lead to further divide with those who feel more righteous than others based on strict obedience to church preferences.
2. You Now Have a Choice: There have been countless stories from both active and inactive members of the LDS church in the last 24 hours about the pain and torment caused to those who were excluded from their wedding whether it was parents, siblings, friends, etc. I am not exaggerating when I say this policy has caused immense pain to members and their families, and in some cases has caused a divide that never really heals -- it's one of the reasons I personally feel that the church is harmful as a whole. But before yesterday members were just being obedient to the teachings of the church and while they had a choice (as I did when I got married civilly first), they felt like they did not have one.
Now that the church is (somewhat) giving members that choice, if they still choose a temple marriage it is going to hurt those who are excluded so much more. As an inactive member of the church, I will not be able to attend the marriage of any family members that opt for a temple marriage. The same goes for younger siblings or those who never joined the church. In the past you could just shrug and say "This is what the church wants me to do" or "This is how we've always done it," but now every one of those people will know you chose a church wedding over being with them on your big day.
While it's still the choice of those couple getting married, the pain caused by choosing a temple marriage will now be magnified and those left out will know that church member made the choice to leave them behind. With this policy change by the church, they have, unintentionally or not, shifted the blame away from themselves and put it squarely on church members for excluding those loved ones from the big day.
3. Pouring Salt On Very Deep Wounds: Just as the revelation to reverse the November 2015 revelation on LGBT members caused a lot of pain for those who suffered unnecessarily for 3.5 years, this change is causing a lot of members (and ex-Mormons) pain when reliving their past experiences with temple weddings. We covered this in #2 above, but it really needs its own space because it has caused so many people pain not just to themselves, but to those people they love so much.
We've discussed different ways we feel the church is harmful in our annotated essays and blog posts, but this policy was never necessary. We won't post the temple ceremony language out of respect for believing members, but there is just no reason that members ever needed to forgo a "normal" wedding that included everyone they love. This isn't just impacting the people that the church deems unworthy, but siblings that are not old enough are automatically excluded. That's not right.
If you want more information on the evolution of this policy, there's a post on By Common Consent that highlights how it started in 1940 and then changed a few times until the one year wait was pretty well set in stone by 1968. The movement began in the church as a response to a "rise in the desire to “have an elaborate ‘Church Wedding’" among members," so the church created policies to make that option more difficult for members.
4. It Illustrates Church Teachings on Eternity: This one is an important one for me personally because I lived it. As I mentioned above, we had a civil wedding because I needed my family with me on my wedding day, and we loved our civil marriage. It was outdoors and while it was a fairly simple wedding (in comparison to what you see on TV at least), it was great. We were with family and friends, the majority of whom were not in the church, and the day was about our love for each other and the chance to celebrate "us" with the people we love.
A year later we were sealed in the temple, and the stark contrast between the two was the beginning of my slow exit mentally from the church. The temple ceremony was very jarring for me, and thinking of the temple sealing against our wedding makes that difference feel exponentially larger. A temple marriage ceremony does not mention "love" -- it is about your relationship and promises to God above all else. One thing we note in our annotated essay on polygamy was how even the church admits that polygamous marriages were not about love, and I feel like the temple is a product of those times. You can read a summary of the 2019 temple changes to see some of the glaringly sexist elements taken out, but again that is a byproduct of polygamy in the church's doctrine. Also, as we note in the annotated polygamy essay, in the eternities polygamy is still doctrine and every LDS woman should prepare for an eternity as part of a polygamous family. The church doesn't want to talk about it for obvious reasons, but the doctrines are clear and the teachings of past prophets are unquestionable: polygamy is still the law in heaven under Mormonism, and every woman should be taught that before making these covenants.
The other difference with a civil wedding and temple ceremony for me was made clear by the church's teaching about family separation. My civil marriage was a fun and loving event with my family and friends, but the temple sealing was spent with just a few family members deemed worthy. Under church doctrine (while I was active), when I die, I will spend eternity separated from those family and friends who are not part of the church, and to me that is not a heaven worth striving for nor is that the doctrine of a God that loves us. That might seem harsh, but what is heaven if you're not with the people you love who are good, loving people who came to the conclusion Joseph Smith was not a prophet after studying church history?
There are of course other unintended consequences that are going to arise from these changes just as we've seen confusion after the November 2015 revelation on LGBT members was reversed this year, but I think these are some that have been discussed already by both faithful and ex-Mormons which really highlights why these changes can be so painful to many people.
While I am still technically a member, if you read our other writings you can see that I no longer believe the church is true. That is due to examining polygamy as stated above along with the Book of Abraham, Book of Mormon translation, DNA, and so many other issues you can see in our links above.
For anyone reading this that is trying to figure out what they are going to do, I hope you can at least entertain my advice based on my experience: Have a civil marriage and spend the day with your loved ones. Don't exclude those who are no longer Mormon or those not old enough to attend a temple ceremony. Enjoy the day and do it exactly how you want to do it -- make it about you and your future spouse. No matter what happens in your faith journey down the road, no one will be able to take those memories away from you, and you'll never have to regret leaving your loved ones behind for a church you later discover to not be true.
We've mentioned on many other posts how difficult it is to take in this new information and changes in policies, and we understand how painful it is to process. Please email us anytime at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like more resources to learn about these issues or if you are looking for people that you can safely talk to as you continue your faith journey.