Published: Wednesday, Mar. 31st, 2021
Temple marriages are top-secret affairs -- absolutely no non-Mormons are allowed to see these hidden events. Even some practicing Mormons, who aren’t deemed worthy of a “temple recommend,” will be asked to wait outside.
This can be downright heartbreaking for LDS couples with friends and family outside the faith, who find themselves without their loved ones by their side on their big day.
But it’s also a drag for those friends and family waiting on the temple lawn -- cameras and confetti in hand -- wondering why they aren’t invited.
With all the secrecy involved, it's no wonder so much confusion, skepticism, and ambivalence surround these highly private unions… both inside and outside the faith.
In the spirit of demystifying things, for loved ones left off the guest list,
here’s a quick breakdown of what we do know about Mormon weddings… from temple sealings to the myth of magic underwear.
It’s important to mention that we respect the deeply held beliefs of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, to the extent that they don’t inflict harm on others. This article is presented in the interest of education and ecumenism.
When Mormons marry, their bond isn’t just lifelong, here on earth. Mormons wed for eternity.
Temple sealings, another term for temple marriages, bind or seal two people here on earth as well as in heaven. The sealing ritual takes about 20 to 30 minutes… while the marriage lasts forever.
Sealings are a vital part of salvation in the Mormon faith, and by solemnizing marriages this way, Mormons believe they are joining families across generations.
Temple marriages must take place in a recognized LDS temple. As of 2020, there were approximately 230 Mormon temples operating or announced worldwide. This means that many couples must travel, at great personal expense and sacrifice, to hold a temple sealing. Because of this expense, many couples wait a long time before marrying, in order to save the necessary money needed for travel.
When planning a temple wedding, couples must follow a few strict rules:
First, they must reserve a sealing room for a specific time and date. Then, in order to enter the temple on their wedding day, they must request and obtain a temple recommend, proving they are worthy members of the LDS Church.
Next, they must apply for a marriage license with the state, just like any other couple.
And lastly, they must secure two male witnesses for their sealing. Only men can serve as witnesses, and they must be worthy members of the Church with current temple recommends themselves, and belong to the Melchizedek Priesthood (the greater order of priesthood within the Church).
Adult Mormons who wish to be married in the Church first receive
a temple endowment (sacred blessing), and a temple recommend.
Because the couple themselves, and any guests at the wedding, must be endowed Church members with current temple recommends, it’s important to understand what this religious permission slip entails.
To be sealed, couples must actually obtain two recommends apiece, by meeting with their bishop or branch president (the leader of their congregation), and with the local state president (a leader who presides over multiple congregations and bishops).
Couples must prove they’re worthy to enter a temple -- that they follow the LDS Church’s rules very closely, including maintaining moral actions and thoughts at all times, paying tithes (10% of their income), staying chaste, making regular confessions, avoiding unhealthy diets, and wearing special garments when inside the temple, among many other qualifiers.
Any guest wishing to attend the wedding must also interview for, and receive, a temple recommend. Only adults over the age of 18 can receive a recommend.
Since non-Mormons can’t attend a sealing, and Mormons who do attend aren’t allowed to talk about them, details of the ritual itself are hard to prove. Even photographs of the event are forbidden! But there are enough ex-Mormons sharing their experiences to give non-Mormons a decent idea of what takes place.
As a loose description, the couple kneels around an altar and repeats the vows of commitment recited by the church member performing the sealing. The couple may clasp hands during the ceremony, and after the vows, they’re pronounced husband and wife and receive a blessing from the Church.
Yes! In fact, many Mormon couples choose to have civil ceremonies either instead of, or in addition to, a temple wedding, so that all of the people they love can participate. But doing so isn’t without risk, and the potential for disapproval.
Until 2019, couples in the United States who chose a public civil ceremony faced consequences for the decision -- forced to wait a full year before holding a temple wedding, in order to re-establish their worthiness to enter the temple. But this year-long wait wasn’t universal within the LDS Church, in fact only 3 countries (the US, Canada, and South Africa) enforced it. Other countries with large Mormon populations, such as the UK, have long allowed civil ceremonies to be followed by same-day temple weddings, to accommodate families with members inside and outside of the faith.
After repeated petitioning from members of the Church, leaders updated their rules for civil ceremonies in 2019. Now, couples are permitted to hold civil ceremonies directly followed by temple sealings, although the strict rules around the sealings themselves remain in place.
Some Mormons choose a civil ceremony, followed by a private temple wedding.
One of the most talked about Mormon customs is the wearing of temple garments -- aka, magic underwear. Unfortunately, the garments themselves don’t appear to have any actual magical powers... Sorry.
These garments are worn under an individual's daily clothing and are much like the religious dress of other faiths, such as hijabs, turbans, cassocks, or vestments. One difference is that once a Mormon has been endowed, they wear these garments at all times, even at home, but especially when entering a temple.
These undergarments are much more involved than a simple pair of boxer briefs or bikini cut knickers, and more closely resemble a 1920s bathing suit or full-coverage Spanx (without the shaping). For both men and women, garments must be white, and cover the chest, torso, pelvis, and upper thighs, although the cut varies by gender.
Temple garments serve to remind Mormons of their belief in and connection to God throughout the day.
They are also viewed as the 'Armor of God.' Mormons consider themselves at war with darkness and spiritual wickedness, which “thrash” believers inside and out, and they must defend against the “onslaught of immorality, crime, substance abuse, and other insidious influences” of the modern world. (via The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints)
(Perhaps instead of magic underwear, garments would be more accurately described as ‘armor undies’. As this is not intended to be disrespectful, we’d need to confer with the Church before adopting this term.)
Surprisingly, Mormons can be unsealed from one another, although this is really only an issue for Mormon women. Because Mormon men can be sealed to multiple women at one time, no undoing of a seal is needed. (Although plural marriage is no longer commonly practiced within the faith, the concepts of polygamy are still embraced.)
A civil divorce does not unseal a couple. After the paperwork is signed, the couple must apply for and receive a cancellation of sealing, which can only be done by a high-ranking church official. Mormon women wishing to remarry, and have their new unions sealed, must receive this cancellation before the next wedding. This isn’t necessary for men wishing to remarry.
It can be hard for loved ones to feel unwelcome at a couple’s wedding, but remember that these restricted events are very common within the Mormon Church and the rules aren’t up to the couple themselves, so don’t take it personally.
If you feel comfortable asking your Mormon friend about their faith and their temple wedding, go for it! Talking to those we love about our different faiths is how we learn and grow, and many times, these open minded conversations can reduce misunderstandings and limit snap judgements.
But be warned. These candid conversations can also turn up fresh disagreements and points of contention. Sensitive topics like gay marriage, women’s rights, reproductive health, or the role of religion and government in daily living, among others, have all come up in national conversation recently while discussing the traditional (and sometimes discriminatory) policies of the LDS Church.
These are valuable conversations to have with your friends and family -- but for the sake of a drama-free wedding, it might be good to save them for after the ceremony.