Marriage In The Temple…Members Only

Growing up, my family lived on a few acres out in the country with a field we rented out on our right and a patch of woods on our left. The woods had a small slope on all sides, making it perfect for a fort. My best friend and I spent all summer building the fort, complete with a draw bridge down the slope and paths and clearings inside the woods for meetings. We had rules for our fort.

  1. Only members of the fort were permitted inside
  2. Girls were not allowed under any circumstances (except when Mom made us let my little sister play along)

Did you have a fort or club when you were a kid with similar rules? Many of us have. So when I started looking into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints regarding the temple and “eternal marriages,” I immediately thought of my exclusive fort in the woods.

In an earlier post we talked about the temples of the LDS church. These are the exclusive “clubhouses” of the faith. Not only are non-LDS persons prohibited from entering, but you must be an LDS member in good standing. This is especially true if you want to perform one of the most sacred ordinances in the church: sealing an eternal marriage.

Eternal marriages are so important because only through this ordinance can we achieve “exaltation,” that highest degree of glory and reward in heaven. When we are eternally married, we are sealed to our spouse not only in this life, but for eternity in the next. LDS members include their children as well. Keep in mind, all Latter-day Saint belief and doctrine is eternally guided. Yes, this life is important, but our eternal fate is the focus and goal of every LDS member.

Members may establish themselves as man and wife in a civil marriage for this life, however for an eternal sealing, you must visit the temple. This is no light affair. The couple must obtain a temple recommend and the ordinance performed by the proper priesthood authority within the temple. Even family and friends attending the ceremony must have a temple recommend. Once the date and time is determined for the sealing and all prerequisites met, the couple and their temple recommend-holding family and a few friends enter the “sealing room.”


Here, the couple kneels, performs the sacred vows under the direction and blessing of a temple priesthood authority and soon, they are sealed in marriage for eternity. Let’s hope you made the right choice, eternity is, you know, FOREVER!

Meanwhile, those without temple recommend or who aren’t part of the LDS church must wait outside the temple or in a waiting room until the ceremony is complete.

That’s right. If this is the only marriage ceremony for your child (i.e. no civil marriage), and you aren’t a member, you just missed your kid getting hitched. Harsh. I have two daughters and I can see it now: Some guy telling me that I can’t watch one of my daughters marry because I’m not a good-standing member of the church. I can also see him knocked out cold on the ground with a bloody nose.

This happens to be one of the most controversial issues in the LDS church today, as families are rightfully upset over not seeing one of their child’s most important days. It’s common to throw insults and judgement of the church for being overly exclusive, a cult, et cetera. Trust me, I get it. But I started thinking about this idea of a sacred space in the temple and suddenly a whole world of “members only” popped into my mind.

  • High profile schools. Often times, school districts are drawn along income lines. This type of exclusivity ensures that only the elite get the best educational dollars and opportunities.
  • Social clubs where net worth and status are the tickets for entry.
  • Ivy league schools.
  • Bulk discount shopping centers.
  • Your clique in school.

What about other religious organizations? The LDS church does not have the market cornered on exclusivity. In the ancient Jewish Temple, only the ritually pure could enter to make the sacrifices. Only Zarathushtis (in most cases) can enter fire temples. Some Hindu sects do not allow non-devotees to enter sacred spaces. There are also limits on entry to Islamic and Christian sites.

In a more secular example, what about research labs? Many times, a security card-carrying scientist must wear the proper garments (sound familiar?), go through a special shower to remove impurities (hmm, baptism, a mikvah, ablutions?), and only then can they enter the clean room (holy space). Even the bedroom of a husband and wife (or other types of couples) can be a sacred place with private “rituals.”

Amazing how the sacred and mundane parallel one another.

The idea is that these places are holy, set apart from the outside world, in a place the faithful consider closest to the divine. I understand the anger, I get the frustration, but we have to understand that this “setting apart” takes place all over society. Our real task is finding out how to accommodate everyone as happily as possible.

  • If you are the parent of a child getting an eternal marriage and you are not part of the church, try and organize a civil wedding (can be religious as well, perhaps in the church) where friends and family of all spiritual persuasions can come and enjoy the ceremony. After that, let the kids do their sealing thing.
  • If you are one of the kids getting eternally hitched, don’t be a jerk. Consider the feelings of your non-LDS family. They raised you. They wiped your butt, cleaned your wounds, put up with your tantrums, supported your endeavours, and brought you into this world. Try to meet them halfway. You don’t have to compromise your beliefs to include your loved ones in this exciting time of your life.

As usual, this isn’t everything to know about temple marriages or the sensitive issue surrounding the practice. My job is to broach the issues, to get everyone talking about the subject, that way we come to an understanding. Ignorance creates rust upon wisdom. Let’s start talking. Let’s start creating solutions. Shake off the rust.

What are some ideas on how these worlds can better suit one another? Were you sealed in the temple and have non-LDS family members? What was your experience? 



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  • Shawn Knight

    I posted this to Facebook last month:

    The Jewish and Zarathushti counterexamples you mention, I feel, are a bit disingenuous.  The Jewish example was for the ancient Temple, which (rather pointedly) no longer exists.  And although non-Zarathushtis cannot enter fire temples, Zarathushtis are not generally _married_ in fire temples, but at family homes, to which non-Zarathushti family and friends are usually welcome.

    I’ve only read one actual book on the subject so far (as opposed to numerous websites) but it appears that a lot (though not all) of the secrecy elements were added to Mormonism after Joseph Smith was initiated into Freemasonry.  I do not say this to “pick on” Freemasonry — its rituals are its own, not intended to restrict wedding attendance or other events which pertain to non-Masonic interests — but to point out that, historically, it appears that Smith may have taken inspiration from the fraternal order as much as anything he took from God.

    The LDS church is pretty much unique, as far as I am aware, in modern
    Western civilization, in excluding friends and family of other faiths
    from what is in theory the happiest day of a person’s life, when the
    entire point of the day is love and togetherness; and if I may be bold, it seems to me that such an exclusion so offends sensibilities that it seems rather dubious that God would be to blame for it.

    • Anonymous

      Hey there Shawn.

      I think you might have missed the point of my examples. I never mentioned marriage in these other holy places, only that they themselves were other locations/cases where exclusivity exists. The idea is to recognize that we cannot only pick on the LDS temple rules because we all practice exclusivity in our lives. It becomes a pot calling the kettle black situation.

      • Shawn Knight

        But I think it’s fair to accept exclusivity in some cases and not others; and I think distinguishing marriage (and probably funerals) from other services is valid.  If I’m not a Zarathushti, why would I want to attend services/worship in a fire temple?  (This is a different question than “can I convert and become a Zarathushti having not been one before.) 

        Marriage is different because it can involve people who are not part of the faith.  I think it’s perfectly reasonable for _some_ LDS services to exclude non-LDS people, but I think marriage in particular (at least in what I broadly term “Western Civilization”) has become a celebration which can and should embrace the couple’s entire circle of friends and loved ones. 

        I am picking on the LDS temple rules because marriage is one place where I think most people in the West specifically _don’t_ want exclusivity and resentments.

        • Anonymous

          That is why I made a call for compromise at the bottom of the post ; )

        • Blackbird

          Hi Shawn,  you said-”I am picking on the LDS temple rules because marriage is one place where I think most people in the West specifically _don’t_ want exclusivity and resentments.”

          There’s nothing very controversial in your statement, but have you tried looking at it from a different point of view?

          If you honestly and sincerely believed that God told you that you should get married in the temple, would it matter if ‘the people in the West’ didn’t like it? 

          I’m not trying to be snide or self righteous, i’m just asking you to remember that you can’t divorce temple marriage from the motivation behind it without getting a very distorted picture. 

          LDS don’t keep people out of the temples because we don’t want them there.  In reality, we would LOVE if every person on the earth could go to the temple, and that’s actually what LDS members work toward.  People aren’t kept away so that we can be exclusive (though I completely understand why it looks that way sometimes).

          We believe that in the temple, you make covenants (or promises to God) that build upon previous covenants you have made at baptism.  Therefore, if you haven’t made those first covenants yet, or if you’re having trouble keeping them, we believe it would be harmful to you spiritually to make more.  Because temple marriages invovle those covenants, we believe it would be spiritually harmful for people to be invovled who haven’t spiritually been prepared, or spiritually chosen, to do so. 

          It’s similar to the way that Jesus declared that taking the sacrament unworthily would be harmful to someone spiritually (though obviously it’s not completely the same).

          Once someone has reached the point where they are prepared and where they are ready to make further covenants with God, however, they are welcomed with open arms.  The grand and eternal hope is that some day, *everyone* will be able to go into the temples and that everyone will chose to do so. 

  • Thebeckscr

    I love your two sided approch to religion.  In life to understand most things with the compassion that God intented….you have to understand the other side.  Never let others deter you from investigating everything, we are at a time when humanity has the knowlege to do so.

  • Mike Parker

    Thanks again, Andrew, for handling this difficult subject with sensitivity. It is rarely an issue when two people from active LDS families marry, but when one or both of the couple have non-member parents, it can be very dicey. I personally know people who have been disowned by their non-Mormon parents over this issue.

    One correction to your suggestions at the end: In countries where LDS temple marriages are recognized by the state (like the U.S.), church policy requires that the marriage itself be done as part of the temple sealing. One cannot have a civil wedding and then immediately go to the temple to be sealed; if you do get married outside the temple, you have to wait one year before being sealed.

    This policy does not apply in countries that don’t recognize Mormon temple marriages (as with much of Europe). There, couples are married civilly and then go immediately to the temple to be sealed.

    The practice in the U.S. has been to have a temple wedding, followed by a “ring ceremony” in a local LDS chapel or other venue for the benefit of non-members. (An exchange of rings is not part of the temple ceremon.) While this has worked for some non-Mormons, has been cold comfort for others.

    The reason for this policy has never been clear to me. I, myself, wish the European practice were the norm church-wide; it would save a lot of heartache and bad feelings. (And I know other Mormons who argree with me).

    • Anonymous

      Oh man, thanks for pointing that out! The European model does seem a viable option to satisfy both parties…now all we have to do is get the US gov to not recognize temple weddings ; ) or at least have the US LSD folks smile a little more upon civil marriages.

      • EmiG

        LSD? :)

        Count me as another Mormon who wishes the European practice was the Church-wide norm.  While I understand the rationale (putting your commitment to God ahead of everything else, including family), I think it’s unnecessarily divisive and hurtful and does far more harm than good to part-member families, particularly when there are different policies in different locales based on local laws.  (Destination temple weddings, anyone?)  I personally know parents who were previously supportive of their child’s membership in the LDS Church who became very antagonistic over this point — and very understandably so.

        There’s one tiny loophole for some people.  If you’ve been a member less than a year, you can’t be sealed in the temple, so if you can time your wedding to take place before you’ve hit a year of membership you can have a civil wedding and then be sealed in the temple once you’ve been a member for a year (and received a temple recommend) without waiting a year from the time of the civil marriage.  A good friend of mine did this and it saved much heartache in her family.

        • Anonymous

          Haha man you had me looking all over the post for that typo! Found it in the comments so thanks. Maybe I’m on LSD…

    • Shawn Knight

      That sounds much saner (and yet an argument for why I don’t believe the US should recognize _any_ religious weddings as legally binding).

  • Blackbird

    As an LDS woman who was married in the temple to a man who was a convert and who’s family could not attended, I can relate a bit to the issue.  We tried to be very sensitive to his mother’s feelings and for that reason, we only invited 6 people to be in the temple with us as we didn’t feel it was right that friends be there when his mother couldn’t be.

    His mother was surprisingly alright with it though.  She understood that though she would be missing out on the moment that her son was married, she wasn’t missing out on a ‘wedding’ because temple sealings are not like weddings at all.

    The whole ceremony takes about 5 minutes.  There is no grand entrance, no walking down the isle (no isle to speak of), no flowers, no music, no bridesmaids or groomsman, no vows exchanged, no rings exchanged, no ‘you may now kiss the bride’… There is no special place for the parents to sit, no prominence given to the mother of the bride or the mother of the groom-guest sit informally wherever they can find a seat…The atmosphere is one of quiet reverence.

    The couple enters the room very informally.  They kneel at an alter.  Promises are made to God and to each other in very simple wording.  They are now married.  That’s really it.  Hugs are given and then everyone exits the room.

    LDS receptions are often just like non-LDS receptions however, and there is sometimes a ring ceremony there and often brides maids and groomsmen and a grand entrance and all that.  There’s flowers and decoration in the ‘colors’ of the wedding party, and music and sometimes dancing, just like other receptions. 

    I know that not everyone reacts to missing their child’s wedding like my mother in law did and there’s nothing wrong with that either.  It’s an emotional time, for sure and people need to do their best to be sensitive and compromise where possible (i’ve known couples that didn’t invite either family to the sealing, even though one side of the family could have been there, to show love and support of the parents who were not members-everyone sat outside the temple together rather than have one side feel left out, for example). 

    • Anonymous

      Thank you for such a descriptive example.

  • JD

    I am a convert to Mormonism. My wife’s mother was also so on both sides
    our family most people couldn’t come into the temple for our marriage. A
    large part of both of our extended families didn’t come to our wedding
    because they were upset they couldn’t come into the temple. We
    recognized this and after we were married in the temple we had a ring
    ceremony where we included all our parents. Each parent was given
    however much time they wanted to share their feelings, their memories of
    us, and the advice they wanted to give us. Then my wife and I each
    shared memories of our childhood with regards to our parents and then
    spoke of our feelings toward each other. We also choose to have our reception in a place where alcohol could be served to accommodate our families.

    On a separate note one of the things my wife and I love is that we can
    go to the temple to do sealings for the dead and in a way we are
    renewing our vows. The dress that my wife wore for our wedding was a
    simple white dress and that is now the dress she wears in the temple. So
    each time we participate in sealing she is wearing the dress she was
    married in.

    Yet another note to add to the idea of sacred space is that both Catholicism, Judaism and Greek Orthodox church have sacred space where entrance limited.

    • Anonymous

      Very cool. Thanks for sharing! What prompted you to convert?

      • JD

        I was an atheist / agnostic and had a come to Jesus moment where I heard a voice from heaven proclaim to me that God was real, Jesus Christ was His son and my Savior and that Joseph Smith was a prophet and the Book of Mormon was true. Wasn’t much left for me to dispute after that witness. I was either crazy or it was time for a change in my life. That’s the short of the story. If you want here is the link to where I recorded the long of the story.

    • Pennylg

      Sounds like your ring ceremony and reception was truly beautiful, thoughtful and meaningful – well done.  Could provide lots of inspiration for others (of any faith or no faith) as to what can constitute a wedding ceremony when the old forms are not enough or not what you’re looking for.
      Thanks for sharing this lovely experience with us.

  • Kate Summers

    Shawn’s comment above about marriage “[embracing] the couple’s entire circle of friends & loved ones” is full of meaning. I come from a Baptist family (although I should note I’m a non-denominational Christian) and I have always been taught that marriage is first and foremost between the couple, but also between their families, as they are the support system that should uphold a couple’s commitment to each other. As I get older – I am unmarried – I see the value in this system. The older I get the more I believe that a wedding ceremony is more important to my family than myself. I’d be quite happy eloping! Building a successful lifelong relationship is more important to me than a wedding.

    As a woman, secular & spiritual issues surrounding exclusion or exclusivity are very interesting to me. Part of me understands such guidelines, especially in cultural context, while the rest of me dislikes these kinds of “rules” because I believe they are human rules, not God’s rules. To me, God welcomes all with open arms. It is men & women who create barriers to God.

    • Anonymous

      I agree. Marriage, at least for me, wasn’t just to my wife but to her family as well. I couldn’t imagine them not being part of the event.

  • David

    I also had an experience with temple marriage and family on both sides who weren’t members. My wife was a convert, the only one in her family. Only my mother and two of my siblings and two friends of my wife and I attended the sealing, while everyone else waited outside. After the sealing, the photographer took some photos and then we all went to the hotel/reception location where we had a ring ceremony with the whole walking down the aisle, bridesmaids & groomsmen, everything, followed by the dinner/reception. The members of my family weren’t upset at all since they are all very familiar with the LDS Church. My father-in-law is also very accepting, but I think that my mother-in-law is still unhappy about it nearly 10 years later.

    I have wondered why we don’t have the same rules that they have in Europe (a civil marriage anywhere followed by a sealing ceremony in the temple), why would we have this set-up that seems designed to lead to unpleasant feelings. It would be so easy that way, right? Why not just do it that way? Who wants it this way?

    However, after reading Blackbird’s post, I thought about it a bit more. I realized that this sacrifice that we’re being asked to make today is almost nothing compared with what previous generations have been asked to make.

    In the early LDS Church, the people were commanded to gather to Zion (see D&C 133:4 ). This meant that people who believed had to leave their families and move not only across the country but across oceans, never to see them again in this life. I think this was probably more upsetting to non-believing family members than not being able to participate in a sealing. Yet they did it, by the thousands. Did they regret it? I’m sure they were extremely sorry about it, yet they did leave, and look at what they accomplished!

    In the Book of Mormon, Lehi had to take his family and flee into the wilderness, never to return, leaving his comfortable home and wealth behind in Jerusalem (see 1 Nephi 2:1-4 ). They did get to take one additional family with them, but what of all the rest of there friends or extended family?

    Similarly, in the time of Christ, His followers left everything and went against a society that was so angered by what Christ taught that they repeatedly attempted to kill Him on the spot and ultimately succeeded once He had completed His mortal ministry and allowed it. After His death and resurrection, His church continued, but many of His followers were imprisoned and even killed. How would non-believing family members feel about a child or sibling or parent who would choose to leave them and go against an entire society and risk open persecution and death?

    Christ Himself taught,

     51 Suppose ye that I am come to give peace on earth? I tell you, Nay; but rather division:

     52 For from henceforth there shall be five in one house divided, three against two, and two against three.

     53 The father shall be divided against the son, and the son against the father; the mother against the daughter, and the daughter against the mother; the mother in law against her daughter in law, and the daughter in law against her mother in law.

    (Luke 12:51-53 )

    We can ask why God can’t make it easier for us and our temple marriages, but if we’re willing to look, God has been asking His people to make similar if not much more difficult choices throughout Judeo-Christian history. It is apparent that God doesn’t generally choose to make things easy for us. What did Christ say about it?

     28 Then Peter began to say unto him, Lo, we have left all, and have followed thee.

     29 And Jesus answered and said, Verily I say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my sake, and the gospel’s,

     30 But he shall receive an hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come eternal life.

    (Mark 10:28-30 )

    This is not a malicious or insensitive invention by (and unique to) the LDS Church designed to hurt people’s feelings. It is the pattern God has set and is completely consistent with Judeo-Christian scripture, if not significantly easier on all parties involved than some of the historic alternatives that our believing forbears have had to face. God has always required sacrifice from His people, and this one is comparatively minor.

  • Marina

    Although we both grew up in the LDS church, my husband and I both have many members of our families who could not be at our wedding in the temple (his mom and all of our siblings – and we have lots! – couldn’t be there.) Not to mention my best friend since 6th grade, who was my matron of honor. It’s something that I didn’t really think twice about at the time, it’s just the way it was, but I now regret it and wish we could have had a civil ceremony first.

    There is enormous pressure placed on young LDS people in the US to get married in the temple and only the temple. Civil marriage is viewed as a consolation prize, temple marriage is the real deal. If you choose to have a civil ceremony first, it’s assumed that you are unworthy (meaning everyone will assume you had premarital sex) and you’re “punished” by having to wait a year in order to get sealed. Young people are told stories like this one (scroll down to “Story”):

    I hope this will change. Too many families have been hurt by this policy. And it is clearly a policy, not a doctrine, since in other countries where laws are different it’s completely acceptable for couples to marry civilly first and be sealed soon after.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Peter

    As a faithful Mormon myself, I have come to understand the meaning of sacrifice in my life. As we place God first in our lives by serving and humbly doing what he asks of us, our faith grows. We become willing to let go of worldly things such as wealth and prestige in order to feel the sweet closeness to God and the sure knowledge that he will guide us and answer our prayers. Sure knowledge born of the spirit that God lives and that we are on his side produces peace that cannot be replicated by the world. It gives us the power to let go of the world and experience miracles.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Shayna

    @ David and Dan…
    it’s true he definitely didn’t come up with it. If you were given an amazing gift and told you should share it with everyone, wouldn’t you? That’s how LDS members feel about our faith. We believe we have been given an enormous gift and that it would be wrong, selfish of us, to not share it with everyone. We honestly would love if every person we knew came with us into that sealing room.

    But previous posts explained it well, if you haven’t mastered following basic commandments and laws, it would be cruel of us to ask you to take on more reaching and stronger binding covenants. You wouldn’t give a 10 year old keys to a car and let them drive.

    My parents are both converts to the LDS church and we had a very hard time explaining all of this to our extended family. There has been a lot of discussion and I know some hurt, but we all have moved past it and know that ultimately there is love there, regardless of the situation.

    I wish with all my heart that my relatives could have been there with us as we were married, but I am grateful for the eternal marriage I have to my husband and the sealing my family has. I would not trade that eternal blessing for anything.

    I know God knows my heart and the hearts of each and every one of us. He knows where we stand and what we stand for. He is our ultimate judge and I am not worried about what others say.

    Inclusion is what we would love, what we strive for, but until a person is ready, they cannot enter into the temple. We ask you to respect the fact that eternal covenants are _eternal_ and with that very sacred and binding.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Layne

    (Looking forward to learning about Islam.)

    I am the only LDS member in my family and my wife and I were sealed in the Temple. My grandfather and others were not happy – but my father was amazing about it. He reminded everyone that it was not about them – it was about a young groom and bride and the start of a new family. He told them their job as a family was to love and support, regardless of our choices.

    Yeah – my dad rocks.

    It was a sacred, holy experience, where my sweetheart and I bound ourselves by covenant to God to build a real partnership, a real union of love and faith. Marriage is hard – but it was that covenant which I believe to be binding that helped me recommit to being a better man, a more humble man, more gentle, kind and patient, even forgiving. I know there are millions of men who view their marriage vows as sacred as I do mine. I’m just saying that my belief in the possibility of an eternal relationship is so profound that I am willing to constantly strive to be fundamentally better.

    I am so grateful my dad “got” this – he knew his boy well enough to allow me some freedom without the pain he could have inflicted.

    I pray that none of my children or grandchildren leave my faith. But if they do, my job is to love them and support them.

    Surely that is what God does with all of us – regardless of our choices.

    • abowen


      Your dad does rock! And I’m sure you’ll carry on the tradition.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Vegas Mormon

    I was married in the Palmyra, NY temple and had a ring ceremony for my many non-member relatives. They thought it was a perfect way to keep them involved in our ‘day’.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Kelsi

    I was married in the temple. I grew up in a different denomination and so I had very few family members who were able to attend. I was blessed to have my mom and brother by my side. Not having my dad in there was very hard, but I wasn’t going to sacrifice this decision I had made with my love. We decided to have a ring ceremony after the temple so we could walk down the aisle and exchange rings (like a civil ceremony without the vows). It was the best day of my life so far.