Consequential changes

I live in a State where gay marriage was legal before the Supreme Court ruled on the matter. My day-to-day Mormonism did not change when my State adopted it, and I don’t think that it will change now. With the national attention, however, I did start thinking about some of the eventual issues that the church will need to adjudicate. Naturally I thought of matters liturgical.

I don’t expect giant conflicts over Bishops being forced to perform same sex weddings. Instead the most interesting questions will arise in the decades to come as a natural extension of our regular practice. In a few decades, we will have converts who are the children of same sex married parents. If those parents do not join the church before death, their child will inevitably be drawn to the temple to participate in our proxy liturgies for our beloved dead. It is our mandate.

The question will be, to whom shall our convert be sealed to as a child? Child-to-parent sealings are only performed to parents who are sealed in marriage. While it will be interesting to see if FamilySearch eventually allows users to input same-sex parents, more interesting, and more vital to the soul of our convert will be how he or she connects to the broader network of eternal kin.

There may be a precedent that the church looks to from the nineteenth century. Before 1894, one could not be sealed to parents who had not accepted the gospel in mortality, or to parents who had left the church in mortality. The solution back then was to be sealed to other faithful members of the church or in the case where a parent or parents left the church, but grandparents were members, one could be sealed to their grandparents. This practice was called adoption.

Wilford Woodruff had a revelation that transformed our temple liturgy, and enjoined the Saints to seek out their relatives, and not just baptize them for the dead, but seal them in marriage and then connect the generations by sealing. For the most part, “adoption” was over. “There will be few if any” Woodruff declared, who will not accept the gospel in the next life. Any mistakes in the sealing chain would be healed by a God. A loving God would figure it all out in the end.

I suspect that the drive to be connected to our ancestors will be a sufficient enough impetus for church leaders to get creative. I would not be surprised if Church leaders looked at these older practices and found a solution for our convert. In such a case he or she could seal a set of grandparents and be sealed to them, while also sealing their same sex parent to them. Multigenerational same sex unions become more complicated. Regardless, it will be fascinating to watch it unfold.


  1. Re bishops performing marriages, I think that (a) they will stop performing them and (b) they will stop allowing chapels for weddings and receptions (imagine if active LDS parents want to use the chapel for a gay child’s reception). (B) will be the most “tramautic” for the LDS culture.

  2. Unless the 2nd Coming happens tomorrow, you mean. I know more than a few folks who sound like they’re betting on it. :)

  3. Clark Goble says:

    Unless new revelation comes down the pike I think it safe to say that gay marriages won’t be recognized in sealings within the temple. And gay couples won’t be baptized without breaking up their relationship (which isn’t likely so as a practical matter gay people won’t make up most converts).

    I think there are lots of questions to ask that don’t have any good answers with regards to the biology of sex here in earth and how it relates to relationships. But we have no answers beyond what’s been revealed and that’s what the church will have to stick with. This may likely make missionary much harder as gay relationships become more and more normative in the west.

    As to the broader point, it’s basically the problem of how you seal when there are gaps. Some type of reorganization will have to take place. Likewise people who are sealed who don’t want to be sealed in the resurrection will have to be reorganized according to their wishes. I rather suspect such things aren’t matters we can attend to with current information and practice. I suspect, to the degree the hints in current doctrine are correct, that this will take place in the millennium when the veil is thinner and lots of corrections will be made to the mess of sealings we’ve done the past hundred & fifty years or so. (grin)

    Woodruff’s suggestion that nearly everyone will accept the gospel in the next life has always troubled me though. Not because I don’t want it to happen. Obviously I do. I just wonder if that could possibly be true. I obviously don’t remotely know. I have often wondered if he was expressing his hope or if he had some reason for that belief.

  4. Clark Goble says:

    To add, the question of who to be sealed to will be an interesting one. I think that already pops up in genealogy with complicated relationships. Often it seems like most people just set up a whole lot of sealings and hope for the best. Until recently the church hasn’t done much of this because frankly accidental screw ups with people sealed to the wrong person, bad names, bad dates or worse. There’s a lot of mess in genealogy work by well intending people.

    However when you having living people and living parents, well that gets very messy quickly. Of course it happens with divorced parents as well and the question of who gets sealed to whom. And as you know the church’s policy here regarding sealings, annulled sealings and more, doesn’t exactly please people. Honestly I think they’re stuck between a rock and a hard place because it’s not a decision anyone’s really capable of making in this life IMO.

  5. “I would not be surprised if Church leaders looked at these older practices and found a solution for our convert.”

    Not every problem has a solution we agree with. My parents are divorced. My mother remarried. My father is scheduled to be sealed to his fiancée. What’s the solution? I’m not going to have them sealed to each other after they die.

    The child of a gay couple cannot have their parents sealed together. And neither can I. Sorry Brigham Young. The chain has been broken.

  6. Geoff - Aus says:

    There was similar (perhaps not quite) distress when inter racial marriage was accepted by society. In my ward there are now a number if inter racial couples. Some have been sealed in the temple.
    As I don’t believe the church opposition was more than the culture/politics of some of the leaders, I can see no reason we won’t be sealing gay marriages, when Elder Oaks and all those older than him have gone. Say 15 years.

  7. Richard_K says:

    I don’t mean to thread-jack here, but many states already have removed any reference to gender from marriage licenses and certificates, and others plan to do so in the wake of the Supreme Court’s ruling. With no means to definitively identify from the record which party is male and which party is female, there will be no means to determine whether the marriage involved a man and a woman, involved two men, or involved two women. A generation from now, once the parties of these same-gender marriages begin to die and the Church begins to extract names from these public records for proxy ordinances in the temple, there will be no way to prevent the proxy sealing of same-gender marriages, as many given names these days can be used by either gender. Of course, we can comfort ourselves with knowing that God will work out any mistakes in the eternities, but we are not talking about a relatively short list of individual record keeping or procedural errors for God to fix. We are being asked to valiantly defend the integrity of traditional marriage among the living, but just look the other way with regards to same-gender sealing ordinances for the eternities. I fear the cognitive dissonance with be too great to bear for many of the most devout.

  8. “The question will be, to whom shall our convert be sealed to as a child? Child-to-parent sealings are only performed to parents who are sealed in marriage”

    How does it work with children of single parents? If they can’t be sealed to the only parent they know, then I guess this is no different.

  9. Can we approach this as a matter of respect? Read the Church’s news release from yesterday:

    “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints acknowledges that following today’s ruling by the Supreme Court, same-sex marriages are now legal in the United States. The Court’s decision does not alter the Lord’s doctrine that marriage is a union between a man and a woman ordained by God. While showing respect for those who think differently, the Church will continue to teach and promote marriage between a man and a woman as a central part of our doctrine and practice.” News Release 26 June 2015

    The cases presented to the Supreme Court allowed of a middle ground, a decision that States are not required by the Constitution to issue marriage licenses (so that development on this front would continue State by State), but that States are required to recognize a lawful same-sex marriage performed in another State. The Supreme Court did not go there. Having reached the decision that States are required to issue marriage licenses, the recognition question became an obvious corollary. I would have done the same, because I believe that marriage is a fundamental right and therefore that rights analysis and equal protection are the correct way to view the issue.

    But could the Church go there? To continue preaching and teaching one-man/one-woman marriage, to continue performing only one-man/one-woman marriage, but to recognize and respect the marriage licensed and performed under another’s rules.

    The logical and doctrinal puzzles are daunting. But the Church has never required logical consistency and a doctrinal dissertation on the subject would be largely speculation. On a practical level, a respect position is very appealing, for purposes of genealogy, for purposes of sealing children to their parents, and for purposes of living day to day in full fellowship. I was touched by a comment I heard yesterday, from one of the out front proponents of same-sex marriage, that this is ultimately about family, about he and his husband and their children as a family.

  10. That is already how temple sealing works. Sealing means that you’re adopted/sealed into the family of Adam.

    We don’t formally do “adoptions” in the temple, but consider this: if a couple marries in the temple, then divorces civilly but doesn’t get a cancellation of temple sealing, all future children that woman has with somebody else (whether in or out of civil marriage, it doesn’t matter) are still born in the covenant. Even if she does eventually get a cancellation of temple sealing and get sealed to their father in the temple, the kids don’t lose their “BIC” status and then regain it under the new parental sealing.

    Temple sealing is like a big circle and it doesn’t matter where you jump in. I think if more people understood that there would be less heartache for people whose spouses have left the church: that worried, faithful spouse is still sealed into the family of Adam.

  11. Mary Lythgoe Bradford says:

    It’s odd that the church opposes same Sex marriages while maintaining polygamous temple ceilings–

  12. Why is that odd, Mary? Polygamy at least still lines up with human biology. Same sex marriage has no connection to procreation.

  13. Old people getting married also has no connection to procreation, but we don’t typically complain about that. And homosexuality has everything to do with biology, which is why plenty of animals engage in it too.

  14. It’s not about biology. The case of one man and one woman married for life, with their own biological children, who do a good enough job rearing their children that the children will stand by their parents . . . that’s the easy case. It is trivial. It is also distinctly in the minority. This sort of discussion, whether it starts with a same-sex marriage question, or one about polygamy, or divorce, or adoption, or in vitro fertilization, ought to spend 99% of the time on those “other” cases, the ones that aren’t so easy.

    Incidentally, polygamy is part of Mormon history from before organized genealogy and roughly contemporaneous with temple work. I suppose there are answers to pretty much all possible questions about polygamy. So for example (these are genuine questions and I do not know the answers):
    >In the case of a man and two wives, and children all around, is that two families or one family?
    >Are the children sealed to the father and one mother, or the father and the two wives?
    >What if a child was adopted into that “family”? Is she considered the child of the father and one wife? Or a child of the triad?

  15. oh the stories I could tell says:

    Yes, we already have two girls in our ward who are being raised by their two Mothers. The girls are brought to church by their grandparents when they are in town or sometimes a Mom drops them off for meetings. It’s got to be hard for those girls at times.

  16. christiankimball, there has never been such a thing in Mormon life as the “group marriage” you wonder about. If John was married to Mary and Susan, John was married to Mary (one marriage) and John was married to Susan (another distinct and separate marriage). Mary’s children were the children of John and Mary; Susan’s children were the children of John and Susan. If one couple adopted a child, she was the child of that couple, not of that couple plus her father’s other wives. If John and Mary divorced, that divorce was solely relevant to their own marriage between the two of them — it didn’t leave any ragged edge of connection between Mary and Susan that needed to be formally severed, because Mary and Susan were not linked in the first place.

    Mary and Susan had no formal (legal, either civil or ecclesiastical) relationship to each other. Each had a separate, distinct marriage. Terms like “sister wife” or children referring to their father’s plural wives as “aunts” were purely for convenience because people have to have terms to refer to the other people they come in contact with, Those didn’t reflect any tie that would affect marriage, divorce, death, adoption, sealing, or any other formal relationship or obligation or tie.

  17. J. Stapley says:

    Ardis and Christian, the one caveat, is that adoptions performed in 19th in Utah were not between a child and two parents, but a child and a mans family, with a spouse simply representing “the female line.” That is obscure, but it was normative, and likely more common then than the thought experiment I propose will be in the mid-term future.

  18. Okay. I took Christian’s question to refer to the adoption of a child (a minor) into a family unit for care and nurture, and your variation has to do with adoption in the special sense of a pre-1894 sealing to a church leader. I responded the way I did because there have been several recent comments and questions in the Bloggernacle that assume a kind of group marriage, with plural wives being somehow joined to each other — and that’s a misunderstanding/speculation/puzzlement that I think needs to be answered whenever it crops up.

  19. Ranbato says:

    I think the interesting part will come when someone asks to be allowed into married student housing at BYU or some other religious university (LDS or not)

  20. Thanks, Ardis (and J.Stapley). It does seem important to understand and distinguish. A group marriage presents a number of additional difficult issues that are not present when everything is pairwise.

  21. “It is trivial. It is also distinctly in the minority.”

    Many are called but few are chosen. I’m ok with the minority as long as I’m following God’s will.

  22. MK: And good for you! (Seriously.)
    So what does that mean for those of us who do not have a neat box to check?

    To be clear, when I use “trivial” and “minority” there is no judgment. “Minority” from my keyboard is neither good nor bad, but equivalent to “less than 50%”. The words are simply observations about problem solving (trivial~self-evident~tautological~already done) and numbers (minority~<50%).

  23. CJ Jones says:

    This is the reaction to Obergefell? Interesting thoughts, but the self referential tone to Mormon discriminatory and messy sealing practices is off putting. I’m looking forward to how BYU is going to handle married gay couples in light of Bob Jones. The gays are here to stay whether BYU likes it or not (of course forgoing tax exemption is always a possibility, but it would be nice if the BYU president in 20 years could forgo the inevitable embarrassment when gay couples are welcomed instead of shunned).

  24. The child should be sealed to his or her mother and father. Everyone has a mother and a father. The problem is that often one parent is unknown because the sperm or egg or sometimes both is/are purchased from an anonymous “donor”. Thankfully anonymous donation is outlawed in many countries and some states in the United States are allowing adoptees their original birth certificates.

  25. Glenn Thigpen says:

    I do not see the church changing its stance on the family. Nor do I see it changing its stance on homosexual activity.

    There may be problems with SSM at BYU, but it is a private university owned by a religious institution and should survive any legal challenges to most of its policies as to housing, etc. For a time at least.

    I do foresee the another wave of persecutions beginning because the church will not change its stance. It is going to become less and less pleasant to be known as a “Mormon” as the years go by.


  26. Jake Cox says:

    Re; BYU married housing. As I understand it (correct me if I’m wrong!) but at least one member of the couple must be enrolled at BYU to qualify for married student housing. But that student would never get beyond the ecclesiastical endorsement interview if they were in a gay marriage, so they could not enroll (or maintain enrollment) at BYU, and for *that* reason, they would not qualify for married student housing. So it seem like the lawsuit would need to be against the ecclesiastical endorsement practice, which (currently) would be harder to attack.

  27. While it may be a creative solution to seal people to those not their parents, I can’t imagine any convert being satisfied by this. In your scenario, J, said convert is more likely to bid the church adieu than to submit to a policy that denigrates the relationship of his or her parents.

  28. CJ Jones says:

    Jake – the marriage could happen during ones tenure at BYU and the optics are just as bad if not worse if you get kicked out just for getting married instead of being denied married housing in the first place.

  29. J. Stapley says:

    RJH, I don’t disagree with you. I’m just sort of speculating on likely decisions, in light of precedent. One might argue that the Woodruff’s 1894 and surrounding shift might argue for another decision all together.

  30. Jason K. says:

    J: I love that your mind goes immediately to liturgy.

  31. Clark Goble says:

    Q, there’s also the problem of increasing engineering at the cell level. While swapping mitochondria to create a three parent baby isn’t that significant, almost certainly in the near future we’ll be able to do more than that.

    I should add that while I think biological parentage is important, I don’t think that really decides who a parent is. Adoptive parents who love and care for a child are far more important. The church has no problems sealing adopted children to their adoptive parents. So I think we may privilege biology a tad too much. Ultimately it’s the relationship and responsibility that matters rather than merely being a sperm or egg donor. Heaven knows we’ve all seen many men who abandon their responsibility to be a father.

  32. Speaking of liturgy, I have been thinking about Mormon Bishops performing civil marriages. During my tenure as bishop, I married several couples in civil marriages. They obviously, for whatever reason, did not qualify for a temple marriage, but one or more of the parties to the wedding (or their families) were seeking the imprimatur of the Church via a ceremony performed by a bishop. In reality, there was nothing special involved. My service in marrying them had no more authority than a justice of the peace or similar public official. Which makes me wonder, why allow bishops to marry anyone at all?

    In my mind, we now have three classes of marriage in the church: temple marriages for eternity, temple or civil marriages for time only that the church recognizes, and civil marriages that the church does not recognize. While I support marriage equality, but not without some anxiety, it seems that the church should involve itself in temple marriages and sealings only, and get out of the civil marriage business altogether. The separation of religious marriages and civil marriages seems cleaner and less of a potential issue in the long run.