SALT LAKE CITY — In a major change to a century of Latter-day Saint wedding tradition and policy, members who marry in a civil ceremony no longer face an automatic year-long wait before they can be eligible for a temple sealing, an ordinance that allows a marriage to continue after death.
“The policy requiring couples who have been married civilly to wait one year before being sealed is now discontinued,” the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced Monday morning in a letter. “Couples who have been married civilly may be sealed in the temple when they receive their temple recommends.”
The change will make it easier for some families who have struggled to balance temple marriage celebrations when some family members are not church members. Only worthy church members can enter temples and attend temple sealings.
Presidents Russell M. Nelson, Dallin H. Oaks and Henry B. Eyring signed Monday’s letter and sent it around the world to the church’s international and local leaders.
But the change will be felt most keenly in the United States and Canada, where a one-year waiting period for a temple sealing after a civil marriage was the policy for about 100 years, according to independent historian Ardis Parshall.
Parshall said among the reasons the one-year wait was instituted was a concern among leaders like church President Joseph F. Smith and the man who succeeded him in 1918, President Heber J. Grant, that elaborate public wedding celebrations among Latter-day Saints in Utah were turning the sacred temple sealing into an afterthought.
Leaders addressed that concern on Monday in a question-and-answer document enclosed with the First Presidency letter that continued to emphasize the difference between marriage and a temple sealing.
“A civil marriage ceremony performed for a couple being sealed in the temple should be simple and dignified,” the document stated.
The document also called the sealing the central focus of marriage, saying it provides a spiritual basis for the start of a marriage. The First Presidency said the temple sealing offers eternal blessings available nowhere else and encouraged all couples to qualify for it.
The policy change, which is effective immediately, is further evidence that church leaders are bringing the faith’s programs and policies into alignment around the world to meet the needs of a global church of 16 million members in more than 180 countries.
For example, the church began in 2013 to allow all men to serve missions at age 18, a policy that previously applied only to those in Mexico and South America.
This year, the church implemented a new, standardized Sunday School and home study curriculum that is used worldwide and changed the North American seminary program’s school-year based schedule to a calendar-year one that fits the global church better. Next year, it will drop Boy Scouts and globally apply its own new programs for teens.
“This change in policy should not be interpreted as lessening the emphasis on the temple sealing,” the document stated. “The sealing of a husband and wife in the temple is of eternal significance and a crowning experience on the covenant path. Where possible, couples should be encouraged to be simultaneously married and sealed in the temple.”
Latter-day Saints often are married and sealed simultaneously in temples in the United States, Canada and many other countries where laws permit.
But in dozens of other countries where laws require couples to marry civilly first, the church for years has allowed a temple sealing to happen soon after a civil wedding, even on the same day.
The First Presidency said the change to follow that practice in the United States and Canada will benefit families where not all are church members.
“We anticipate this change will provide more opportunities for families to come together in love and unity during the special time of marriage and sealing of a man and woman,” the leaders wrote.
For example, church spokeswoman Irene Caso said she married her husband in a civil ceremony at city hall in Madrid in 2005 with family present. Later that day, they were sealed in the Madrid Spain Temple.
“After going to the temple, we all celebrated with music and dance,” Caso said. “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.”
Church leaders said there is no specific time frame for sealing after a civil marriage.
“Worthy and prepared couples can be sealed as soon as circumstances permit,” the enclosure stated.
Globally, many Latter-day Saints who live far from one of the faith’s 163 temples first marry civilly and live without sealing for months or years before they can save money to travel. The church has engaged in an intensive 20-year building program that has brought the number of temples from 53 to 163, bringing them closer to members around the world.
The church’s tens of thousands of meetinghouses can be used for civil marriages.
Newly baptized members will still need to wait a year before being sealed in the temple to provide time for them to prepare to receive another ordinance, the endowment.
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