Legally vs. Lawfully Married: No Distinction, No Difference

That Mormons attach great importance to (the right kind of) marriage is no secret, so the last thing that surprises me as a life-long Mormon are the efforts—at both the individual and institutional levels—to buttress this beloved and divine institution. In fact, I expect to hear regular references to the Family Proclamation as a relevant, even inspired document for our times and for temple marriage to be underlined at every opportunity as a goal for which all should strive to be worthy. And when leaders and laypeople alike promote the vital importance of marriage and their vision of the kind of eternal relationships temple marriage can help forge, I think to myself: “Indeed. This is the church I know and love.”

Yet as someone who over a decade ago chose to marry someone of another denomination and remain an active Mormon, I would like to gently suggest that attempts to promote eternal marriage relationships by delegitimizing all but temple marriages are an unproductive undertaking at best. 

The kind of (unwitting?) efforts to build up temple marriages by undermining other  forms that my Spidey senses are attuned to range from tearful pleas not to “settle” for anything less to casual dismissal or outright scorn for the rubes who sold their mess of robust religious rites for short-lived civil ceremonies. Usually the form it takes is not too obnoxious—at least for an insider like myself who knows what to expect—just a conversation among generally like-minded people who speak as if all agree that there exists a hierarchy of commitment to moral strengths, traditions, and values that sustain civilization as evidenced by the ceremony chosen to formalize marriage relationships. I suspect that these kinds of conversations have been going on since time immemorial and simply reflect run-of-the-mill group dynamics. Nevertheless, for an organization that proclaims “Visitors Welcome” on its buildings, I think we can do better in taking our standing invitation seriously by reconsidering the tendency to cast the world as the darkness that makes our light shine brighter.

But there is another more recent context that has given rise to efforts to delegitimize non-temple marriages—the more or less gradual incorporation of gay marriage into the law of the land. For nearly 20 years, the Proclamation’s emphasis of lawful weddings was presumably considered a sufficiently strong bulwark against the legal legitimization of gay relationships. But developments were underfoot that would elide the legal distinction in the types of relationships meeting divine approval that the Proclamation had relied upon. In response to these developments, President Nelson observed in 2013 that

In our day civil governments have a vested interest in protecting marriage because strong families constitute the best way of providing for the health, education, welfare, and prosperity of rising generations. But civil governments are heavily influenced by social trends and secular philosophies as they write, rewrite, and enforce laws. Regardless of what civil legislation may be enacted, the doctrine of the Lord regarding marriage and morality cannot be changed. Remember: sin, even if legalized by man, is still sin in the eyes of God!

Then, following the Supreme Court’s decision not to hear gay marriage cases in 2014, the Newsroom recalled the primacy of divine law with regard to marriage, practically washing its hands of civil law:

The succession of federal court decisions in recent months, culminating in today’s announcement by the Supreme Court, will have no effect on the doctrinal position or practices of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which is that only marriage between a man and a woman is acceptable to God. […] As far as the civil law is concerned, the courts have spoken.

The dichotomy between civil law and God’s law as articulated in statements such as these has not been lost on those who fill the pews. Fellow perma Kevin Barney gave me permission to share this experience from the front lines this past Sunday:

Today in GD the lesson was on the family, and in the course of the lesson we read the Proc, which includes this line:

We further declare that God has commanded that the sacred powers of procreation are to be employed only between man and woman, lawfully wedded as husband and wife.

One of our high priests gave a commentary on this, to the effect that “legally” means pursuant to man’s law, but here the text says “lawfully,” pursuant to God’s law. It’s not enough to be legally married, one must be lawfully married. He never uttered the word gay or it’s synonyms, but it was clear where he was going.

Now that legal marriages include gay couples, we find ourselves in a brave new world where Mormons assault the institution of marriage as a means of protecting the institution of marriage! As I gently suggested above, such acrobatic interpretations are unhelpful. First, the distinction the high priest was trying to make is in vain. Kevin continues:

What he doesn’t realize is that there is no distinction between the terms such as he posits. Legally and lawfully is a legal doublet; the terms are meant to be entirely synonymous. This quirk in our legal vocabulary derives from the law courts after the Norman conquest, where you have Anglo-Saxons and Normans mingling together. So the phenomenon of legal doublets arose, synonyms in Anglo-Saxon and Law French (derived from Latin). So there are dozens of legal expressions given as synonymous doublets, like will and testament or aid and abet. Legally and lawfully is such a doublet, and there is not intended to be a different nuance of meaning between those terms.

Second, and more egregiously, such efforts throw a lot of people under the bus—pretty much the entire global population minus the diminishingly tiny percentage of Mormons who marry in the temple and keep their covenants. And this is where I suggest less gently that, “Sorry not sorry, but I’m not willing to be the collateral damage of your culture war.” Eternal marriage as conceptualized and practiced by Mormons ought to be able to stand on its own virtues; if it cannot, then tearing down other forms of marriage isn’t going to redeem it, and attempting to do so will not only be a waste of time but will also extinguish much good will in the process, including among those who attend services as visitors and as regulars.

Moving ahead, I’d like to see strides lengthened in the direction of making a positive case for temple marriage, one that assumes that even the people in the back have something great going on already. Let’s just not get bogged down in creating problems for people so that we can offer a patent remedy—”Did you know you’re not really married until you’re temple married?”—or, heaven forbid, attempt to enhance the relative standing of temple marriage by discounting the committed relationships of others.

Instead looking for distinctions where none exist in order to sideline others, we might recall President Uchtdorf’s powerful sermon from the recent Christmas Devotional:

Let us never forget that we are disciples and followers of Jesus Christ, the living Son of the living God. To truly honor His coming into the world, we must do as He did and reach out in compassion and mercy to our fellowmen. This we can do daily, by word and deed.

This may be pretty generic advice, but when it comes to our discussions of some of the most significant relationships we enter into as humans, it strikes me as fundamentally sound.


  1. Absolutely! But I already knew we had some common views here, peterllc.
    It’s only fair to point out or underscore that Obergefell (in the U.S., and analogous moves elsewhere) has raised the stakes greatly for many Mormons and other religious fundamentalists. There’s a great desire to treat marriages of two men or two women as not legitimate or not real or counterfeit. I usually couch my reply in terms of “respect”—you don’t have to like it, you don’t have to promote it, but you do have to respect it—it’s really marriage.

    Also I notice vocabulary. Adjectival forms often imply an othering, a lessening, a hierarchy. Who ever says “civil marriage” without a coloration of less than? Is “same sex marriage” even a thing? The courts have said no, it’s just marriage.

  2. Yes. This is (sadly, yet another) something I hear in the pews that makes this converts glad her family isn’t present. There is so much to love about my adopted faith–and I do. But our propensity to draw the lines ever tighter, to exclude even more folks, is baffling.

  3. I wish we had the separation of marriage and sealing that exists in other countries. For example, in Costa Rica, the LDS Church has no power to perform marriages, and so (while I was there) couples got married civilly, and then when time and money and desire allowed, they would travel to the temple to be sealed.

    With that separation, I think/hope it would be harder for otherwise kind people to justify their morally questionable stances on marriage and “religious freedom”.

  4. Not a Cougar says:

    “The kind of (unwitting?) efforts to build up temple marriages by undermining other forms that my Spidey senses are attuned to range from tearful pleas not to ‘settle’ for anything less to casual dismissal or outright scorn for the rubes who sold their mess of robust religious rites for short-lived civil ceremonies”

    Hoo boy, my Gospel Doctrine class was a like a pack of wolves on a deer with this issue when we discussed marriage some months ago. After nearly ten minutes of diatribes on the evils of non-temple marriages, (specifically, many in the group seemed offended by the idea of a couple being married by a friend ordained via the Internet – what horrid idea!?!?!), I had to put my hand up and point out that our leaders absolutely do encourage marriage in and out of the temple and we should too. There had a been a brief point made earlier in the lesson about the social and economic benefits of marriage to couples and their children and I asked why should we care how the couple gets married so long as they DO get married (assuming the couple isn’t going to be married in the temple). Don’t we want children everywhere to grow up in stable, loving households? Don’t we want families to be more prosperous and educated? Don’t we want couples to have better odds of staying together long term? Of course, pushing too hard down that road gets us to Obergefell and we certainly can’t have and don’t want the gays living as happy, healthy families, do we? Sheesh. Please also don’t misunderstand me. Marriage is certainly no panacea for all the world’s ills, but encouraging stable, loving relationships (gay, straight, etc.) seems to be a giant step in the right direction

    I value the blessings of being sealed in a temple, but we do ourselves no favors in making fun of or despising marriage outside the temple (I’m the offspring of just such a marriage so maybe I’m a bit biased, even though my own wedding occurred in a temple).

  5. Is “same sex marriage” even a thing? The courts have said no, it’s just marriage.

    Yeah, there seems to be a reluctance to just go ahead and embrace all comers; maybe out of concern that someone will get something for nothing?

    I wish we had the separation of marriage and sealing that exists in other countries.

    I was married a jurisdiction that recognizes only civil marriage; you are free to follow up that ceremony with the religious rites or pagan festivals or whatever else of your choosing, but church officiators may not wear two hats and perform the role of the state. I think it’s a sensible division of labor. Here Mormons who choose to be sealed in the temple are first married down at the town hall like everyone else and then trek over to the temple without having to wait the cooling off period that is imposed in the US (and elsewhere?).

    encouraging stable, loving relationships (gay, straight, etc.) seems to be a giant step in the right direction

    That’s my gut reaction.

  6. In the gospel doctrine class I attended 2 weeks ago, where the lesson was on the Proclamation on the Family, not a single person brought up or even hinted at the gay marriage issue. It was a proud moment.

  7. I fully agree, PeterLLC. As I wrote in a post just yesterday: In praising temple marriage, Mormon lessons often implicitly denigrate regular civil marriage. Even the lesson [Gospel Doctrine lesson #25] says “marriage and family are ordained of God,” not “temple marriage is ordained of God.” In 2017, there are a lot of civil marriages in the Church. A lot of older Mormon couples (pillar of the ward types) have civilly married children. We really need to learn to say nicer things about civil marriage.

  8. Could not agree more. I think we miss the richness of the gospel when we fail to embrace the good of others–and when we fail to recognize the love that exists in families even when established outside the temple. I read Alma 1:30 this morning and was struck by the mention of prosperous members, being liberal to all including those in and out of the church, “having no respect to person who stood in need.” That scripture references Alma 16 where Alma and Amulek teach the gospel, “with no respect of persons.” And my mind goes to 3 Nephi 18–though not an exact match–where the Savior instructs his disciples to not cast anyone out of their synagogues, as they (the disciples) may “be the means of bringing salvation unto them.” The irony of our truth claim superiority complex is that the only true expression of those claims is to love without “respect of persons.” And what could be more loving than to celebrate the loving relationships of others that add to the savour of the world. I do think that our church members, on scrutiny, do quite well at this. Perhaps not when making sunday school declarations–but certainly when calling on people in their homes, or making small talk in the hallway.

  9. Great minds, Dave B!

    I do think that our church members, on scrutiny, do quite well at this. Perhaps not when making sunday school declarations–but certainly when calling on people in their homes, or making small talk in the hallway.

    Agreed. I suspect that abstraction is often the culprit in discussions of principles.

  10. Monica Jensen Call says:

    I did the unthinkable and married outside the temple even though I’d previously been endowed (own choice, not for a mission). I had been engaged before to someone from one of the “first families” of the Church with plans for a temple wedding, but when he became verbally and emotionally abusive the engagement was off. A year later I met my husband and “knew” that he was who I wanted to be with forever. Unfortunately, he was attending a Presbyterian Church at the time. As we got to know each other he confessed that he’d been born, baptized, and ordained up to office of a Priest but had left Church activity because his parents had never been active and most of the LDS adults he’d interacted with while growing up in his small town were small minded or out and out hypocrites. He’d also asked too many questions in Sunday School and Priesthood classes that Church teachers and leaders didn’t want to answer. After a long time dating we decided to get married in the presence of our two families with his next door neighbor the bishop officiating. My paternal grandpa refused to attend the wedding because it wasn’t in the temple. My dad’s brother flew in from Phoenix to read Gramps the riot act because Gramps’s own parents had refused to come to witness his marriage to my grandmother because she wasn’t the perfect Danish girl they’d chosen for him. Gramps came to the wedding and even admitted that it was one of the most spiritual experiences he’d ever had. Seven years later we were sealed. My sister made an interesting comment at the time. She said that she almost wished that she’d been able to marry and later be sealed like I had been because the
    experience would have meant more to her. This Friday we’ll celebrate thirty marvelous years together. Whenever I hear someone start in on the “you can only get married in the temple” schtick I tell them my story. It usually shuts them up quickly because they know that I’m blessed with a good marriage. Just because a couple is married in the temple doesn’t mean that they’ll live happily ever after.

  11. Peter:
    Thanks for this reminder that we can do better to promote celestial marriage, without disparaging civil marriage. As I read, though, I couldn’t help but think that this tendency to disparage non-temple marriages is likely to continue given that Section 132 basically sets up the whole concept of celestial marriage by “putting down” others. Here, for example, from the President of the Quorum of the Twelve:

    “On occasion, I read in a newspaper obituary of an expectation that a recent death has reunited that person with a deceased spouse, when, in fact, they did not choose the eternal option. Instead, they opted for a marriage that was valid only as long as they both should live. Heavenly Father had offered them a supernal gift, but they refused it. And in rejecting the gift, they rejected the Giver of the gift.

    “One strong sentence of scripture clearly distinguishes between a hopeful wish and eternal truth: ‘All covenants, contracts, … obligations, oaths, vows, … or expectations, that are not made and entered into and sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise, of him who is anointed, both as well for time and for all eternity, … are of no efficacy, virtue, or force in and after the resurrection from the dead; for all contracts that are not made unto this end have an end when men are dead.’” See Russell M. Nelson, “Celestial Marriage,” Ensign, October 2008.

  12. is it lunch time yet? says:


    I am not sure I understand what you are proposing. Are you essentially saying that in our discussions and lessons at church on marriage that we should celebrate or praise committed and legal relationships of any kind, regardless of what our beliefs might say about that relationship?

    Or am I way off the mark?

  13. I haven’t ever heard someone propose that “legally” and “lawfully” mean two different things, but I certainly agree with your position.

    This struck me when I read it in your post: “the sacred powers of procreation are to be employed only between man and woman.” If they aren’t between a man and a (fecund) woman then they aren’t procreative powers. That’s just biology. There’s sex, and there’s procreation. This euphemistic use of the term “procreation” renders a lot of our talk about sex inaccurate, but hey, at least we got to alliterate, and if there’s one thing Mormons love, it’s alliteration.

  14. This issue comes up in odd ways. I am a widower and married a widow just over a year ago. Because we were both sealed to our respective spouses at the time of their death, we were part of the small subset of people who can be married civilly in the temple.

    I found it odd that, as part of the “advice” the person officiating our marriage talked about the importance of the sealing, and how this was not a sealing ordinance. Did he not understand that the only reason we could be there at all was that we were already sealed? We know how important a sealing was–that is why we did it in the first place. And we don’t feel any less married to each other than we felt married to our first spouse. We would have been sealed to each other if that had been an option. It wasn’t entirely our choice that we didn’t get sealed for this marriage–it is Church policy that doesn’t let my wife be sealed to me while she is alive without breaking that first sealing.

  15. Without commenting on the issue of marriage, anyone proposing that “legally” and “lawfully” are distinct terms needs a crash course in “legal doublets.” Pairs of terms that are virtually identical (sometimes we might discern subtle shades of meaning because English is such a rich language that we have the ability to signal subtle shades of meaning that were not there when the words entered the language) are very common in law. Very often one word of a pair is drawn from a Germanic language while the other word in the pair is drawn from a Romance language — signally a time when England had competing linguistic and governmental sources.

    legally and lawfully
    aid and abet
    to have and to hold
    due and payable
    lewd and lascivious
    break and enter
    free and clear
    then and in that event
    terms and conditions
    null and void

    For all intents and purposes (did you see what I did there?) each part of a pair means what the other part of the pair does, and when a class member or anybody else tries to establish a “doctrine” based on splitting and redefining a legal doublet, he’s just making things up.

  16. Just be glad you are not Catholic. I spent some time working for Catholic Family Services and the Father and I compared Religions somewhat. Mormons recognize those heterosexuals married outside the church as not living in sin. The Catholics consider any form of marriage not done by the Catholic Church as living in sin.

    My issue is that Mormons harp on it a lot more, so that an active Mormon, not married in the temple feels more guilt, and more pressure, than does your average active Catholic married outside of their church.

    As to the “legally and lawfully”, the church felt the need to split hairs to justify their stance. They could have done it the opposite way and said it meant legally married by God, instead they said lawfully married by God. Six of one, half a dozen of the other. I do not respect such twisting of meaning to try to make something fit their preconceived ideas.

    It would have made more sense if they had owned their own restriction and changed the temple wording to something similar to what it was when poligamy was around. “For the men, this means sexual intercourse with your legally and lawfully wedded wives” ( but I will let them change it to singular if they wish) “and for the sisters, this means sexual intercourse with your legally and lawfully wedded husband.” By going back to the older way of dividing the sexes and specifying husband or wife, they avoid having to specify that same sex marriage is prohibited.

  17. Here, for example, from the President of the Quorum of the Twelve

    No doubt such statements carry far more weight than a lowly blog post. In my view, it is unbecoming of an apostle to characterise couples who marry outside the temple as delusional at best if they think they will be reunited in the next life when the sealing by the Holy Spirit of promise is something that it going to come as a personal witness and not as an event that will take place on a particular premise during business hours under the direction of a mortal presiding authority.

    Or am I way off the mark?

    Pretty far off the mark. I’m saying that telling everybody how they’re doing it wrong is a less effective way of celebrating temple marriages. If we must complain about something, let’s focus not on the ways the world fails to measure up but the ways those who marry in the temple fail to keep their covenants. After all, enduring to the end is work enough for an entire lifetime. This has the advantage of 1) not alienating friends, neighbours and perfect strangers and 2) being something we can actually do something about.

    if there’s one thing Mormons love, it’s alliteration

    It’s one way I try to follow the prophets!

    This issue comes up in odd ways.

    Thank you for shedding light on one of the ways our doctrine of eternal marriage creates wrinkles in the here and now. Also, congratulations!

    Just be glad you are not Catholic.

    Well, my wife is, so we get it from both directions!

  18. Perhaps reproductive ability should stand on its own merits as well. The church’s formal motive for strongly promoting heterosexual marriages appears to be to help ensure couples are able to reproduce and build families, but as someone already mentioned, that’s biology–so why do we need to disparage homosexual unions when they already “suffer” the biological reality of not being able to have their own children? My understanding of the gospel suggests that natural consequences befall our choices, and we use agency to decide what consequences we are willing to endure. When homosexual people decide to marry, they automatically accept the consequence of forfeiting reproductive ability–I’m not convinced anything else is needed. Does anyone else wonder if the current abhorrence toward homosexual unions in our culture is comparable to past passionate disapproval of interracial marriages? There seem to be similar emphases on who is clean who isn’t as well as who are fit to raise children and who aren’t.

  19. I agree with the thrust of the OP regarding not denigrating non-temple marriages and that “legally and lawfully” are generally intended to mean the same thing: i.e, “very” legally.

    But there is an underlying issue that the brother in Kevin’s HP quorum is struggling to solve. If the temple definition of chastity permits sex with your spouse to whom you are “legally and lawfully” wed, the plain meaning of the language would seem to allow sexual relations between same-sex spouses who are legally and lawfully wed (and “legally and lawfully” sounds more like government law than church law). There are lots of authoritative out-of-temple statements which contradict that plain meaning, but there is still a little awkwardness or dissonance in the mind of many patrons when those words are used in the temple. So you can see why bifurcating legally and lawfully into God’s law and man’s law seems like a convenient solution to this problem.

    In trying to come up with a more linguistically and historically sound interpretation of the phrase, it would be helpful to know when the “legally and lawfully wed” formulation become part of the temple ceremony. How was it understood in the days of polygamy? Legally and lawfully under God’s law (which was held to permit polygamy at the time)? Or was “legally and lawfully wed” added post-polygamy? To provide a safe distance from the former practice of polygamy? Perhaps Ardis P. or J. Stapely know the answer.

    But the tension will probably persist until there is (another) change to the temple language to clarify the meaning of the temple law in light of the the recently expanded definition of “legally and lawfully wed” under American (and many other country’s) law.

  20. is it lunch time yet? says:

    OK, thanks for correcting my understanding. I think though that if you are going to teach a standard, any standard, you have to do all the above. You have to talk about 1) why temple marriage is so great, 2) how we can do better in our own temple marriages AND 3) why other versions of marriage are not as good in the eyes of God. If you can’t discuss all three, I am not sure that the standard makes any sense.

    It would be hard to teach a coherent version of charity, for example, if we avoided discussion on 1) why charity is great, or 2) how we can work on charity or 3) why other ways of treating others is sinful in the eyes of God.

    Maybe it is just a matter of balance? more of 1 and 2 and less of 3.

  21. It seems that a good general rule of thumb for all church discussions is to first cast the beam out of our own eye so that we can see the mote in others’ eyes. Whenever we cajole and comfort ourselves and our fellow Mormons that we are the best, the rightest, the most favored, we are assuredly not on the road to improvement.

  22. I recall reading somewhere that the “legally and lawfully” doublet was added to the covenant language to reinforce the Church’s early 20th century commitment to monogamy rather than polygamy. Perhaps a historian can confirm whether that thought is accurate or mere speculation. However, there is at least some evidence from 1867 that the doublet was already in use by the “president” of the Church in sealing polygamous marriages. See “Origin, Rise, and Progress of Mormonism: Biography of Its Founders and History of Its Church : Personal Remembrances and Historical Collections Hitherto Unwritten” by Pomeroy Tucker, Appleton, 1867. If so, it would seem that at least in 19th century LDS parlance, “legally and lawfully” had little or nothing to do with civil law.

    Note: Since I don’t know what triggers a comment going into moderation, I’m trying this again, but without the link to Googlebooks.

  23. kanyesmanners says:

    My wife, in her calling as a Mia Maid advisor, sat in on a lesson about Temple marriages and chastity and grew quite frustrated when the subject of civil marriages came up. The teacher spoke about how you should never settle for anything less than a Temple marriage. My wife made the point that for various reasons, she and I chose to marry outside of the Temple and that choosing to get married was not settling. The leader tried to clarify, but no matter what she said, she ultimately had to retract her original comment.
    D&C 132:18: And again, verily I say unto you, if a man marry a wife, and make a covenant with her for time and for all eternity, if that covenant is not by me or by my word, which is my law, and is not sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise, through him whom I have anointed and appointed unto this power, then it is not valid neither of force when they are out of the world, because they are not joined by me, saith the Lord, neither by my word; when they are out of the world it cannot be received there, because the angels and the gods are appointed there, by whom they cannot pass; they cannot, therefore, inherit my glory; for my house is a house of order, saith the Lord God.
    I read this and think, even if I married civilly in the church, even by my bishop, but am not sealed, it’s as if I didn’t marry at all, or married at the courthouse, or whatever. It’s all the same if it’s not done “right”.

  24. Maybe it is just a matter of balance? more of 1 and 2 and less of 3.

    Yes, that seems right. I would imagine that the appropriate balance would also take into account the fact that celestial marriage has been something of a work in progress in even just the relatively short history of the church, such that final and definitive statements about why other versions of marriage are not as good in the eyes of God would be rare compared to points 1 and 2.

  25. The teacher spoke about how you should never settle for anything less than a Temple marriage.

    I have been party to the same lesson on several occasions. It makes sense if you view God as bound by immutable laws and you don’t want anyone to be lonely for all eternity because they made a mistake during their short mortal probation. At the same time, the restoration was hardly a turn-key project so insisting on a static standard seems likely to raise as many complications as it resolves.

    It’s all the same if it’s not done “right”.

    I can readily imagine people arguing that in the abstract, but all it takes is a simple thought experiment that contrasts one’s feelings about, say, the Methodist couple down the street celebration their golden anniversary with the hedonistic commune out in the woods to realise that of course it’s not all the same.

  26. My anecdotal exp is that Temple M is held out as the ideal. I have never heard to much denigration of non temple marriage. Most marriages historically in multi genetation families usually until the last couple of generations were civil marriages done by bishops. Sealings usually came later if not after death.

  27. Many General Authorities have spoken derisively or negatively about non-temple weddings, going so far as to imply they aren’t “real” marriages. Elder Nelson most recently, within the last five years.

  28. I wonder if our erstwhile culture wars “allies” realize that Church leaders believe — and teach in General Conference — that their non-temple heterosexual marriages are counterfeit, much like those allies view gay marriages to be.

  29. Regarding the original post, I agree with Bbell. I can’t recall anyone in my long church experience ever claiming a marriage outside the temple was not legal just because it was performed outside the temple. As Bbell notes, it is not uncommon for bishops to perform marriages outside the temple as the occasion requires, and they don’t regard the ceremony as illegal, unlawful, or illegitimate. Most families in the church have lots and lots and lots of places in their family trees with marriages outside of the temple and outside the Church, and we love those people and consider those marriages legal and the resulting children legitimate, do we not? Temple sealings for the dead are typically based on marriage records which, while performed in other churches, our church considers not only legitimate but also worthy of preservation. Sealings are about making something eternal, not changing it from illegal to legal.

    Regarding the comments, consider instead of using “fundamentalists” using “orthodox.” Fundamentalist is often considered pejorative. The current Pope, for example, might be surprised to be told he is a fundamentalist.

    Also in the comments, for “expanded definition” consider “changed definition,” for the courts have indeed changed the legal definition of marriage in the U.S. The traditional legal definition essentially remains in effect in most of the world both by population and by the number of countries. As a world-wide organization, the Church recognizes the laws of the countries where it is organized and functions the best it can accordingly, but Church doctrine and the gospel do not change from country to country.

    Changing the meaning of a word has far-reaching consequences. You can win any argument by sufficiently changing the definition of the subject under discussion. But as the original post notes, the courts didn’t change Church doctrine. The courts cannot change our religious ordinances as long as the First Amendment prevails.

    Changing the definition of string quartet to “small musical ensemble” would easily be recognized a far-reaching change rather than a simple expansion. It would, in fact, destroy the old definition of string quartet, and we would need a new word for old string quartets to discuss music historically and intelligibly. Changing definitions inevitably leads to verbal acrobatics.

    In the U.S. we now have a marked divergence between the legal definition of marriage and the religious definition as held by traditional or orthodox faiths and by almost everybody in common usage until relatively recently. Basic definitions may continue to change. We now have looming legal fights over the definition of male and female and the pronouns that can be used accordingly without legal consequences. This is the world we now live in.

  30. Dog Spirit says:

    I’m afraid that any argument for the superiority of temple marriage that rests on the foundation of D&C 132 hasn’t really got a leg to stand on, at least in my book. That’s the same law of marriage where virgins are handed out like prizes and noncompliant wives are destroyed. I’ll take a legal marriage any day over a marriage that complies with that law, thank you very much.

  31. Left Field says:

    “If they aren’t between a man and a (fecund) woman then they aren’t procreative powers. That’s just biology. There’s sex, and there’s procreation. ”

    If you want to bring up biology, I don’t think I can split the hair quite that finely. A reproductive system is still a reproductive system, regardless of when or whether it is ever used to reproduce. To put it in biological terms, the statement is simply setting forth what are said to be appropriate uses of reproductive organs. They don’t cease to be reproductive organs just because they are not (currently) used in a way that will result in reproduction.

    If you tell me not to use my lawnmower to mulch leaves, I know exactly what you mean. It’s still a lawnmower even if I’m using it to mulch leaves, or even if I never use it to mow the lawn.

  32. jon miranda says:

    Alcohol is legal but a practicing alcoholic may not have full fellowship in the church.
    Gay marriage is legal but a practicing homosexual may not have full fellowship in the church even if married.

  33. I taught the Proclamation lesson in my ward where I teach Gospel Doctrine as an openly gay member. I serve in the temple, home teach, and sing in the choir, but man, teaching this lesson posed a real challenge for me. At first I decided to get a substitute since my conclusions about the Proclamation don’t match those of the lesson manual. Rethinking that decision, I felt that I should ask my new bishop if I might teach the lesson from the viewpoint of an active gay member who faces contradictions but soldier’s on despite misgivings. He agreed as long as I didn’t spend time on autobiographical details from my storied past as an excommunicated gay activist. The bishop is a good man, kind and loving, but I concluded that since he also is employed by the Church, he would tolerate no unorthodox diversions. In the end I chose to center my lesson around the histories of the four Official Proclamations preceding the fifth in 1995. My commentary included a reference to the first Proclamation of the First Presidency of the Church January 15, 1841 issued in Nauvoo. I pointed out that this document also lays bear in full view a political motivation just like the one behind that of 1995. I quoted the final paragraph of this Proclamation as evidence for the class to consider.
    “We wish it likewise to be distinctly understood, that we claim no privilege but what we feel cheerfully disposed to share with our fellow citizens of every denomination, and every sentiment of religion; and therefore say, that so far from being restricted to our own faith, let all those who desire to locate themselves in this place, or the vicinity, come, and we will hail them as friends, and shall feel it not only a duty, but a privilege, to reciprocate the kindness we have received from the benevolent and kind-hearted citizens of the state of Illinois.”
    Signed, Joseph Smith, Sidney Rigdon, Hyrum Smith, Presidents of the Church From History of the Church. Volume 4.

  34. Sealings are about making something eternal, not changing it from illegal to legal

    Yes, but 1) in the US and possibly elsewhere the sealing is also recognized as a legal marriage, and 2) in the 21st century gay couples can be married legally. So it’s probably inevitable that legal and legitimate will collide in our Sunday School discussions. Hopefully this post will encourage greater reflection on the stakes involved.

    My anecdotal exp is that Temple M is held out as the ideal. I have never heard too much denigration of non temple marriage.

    I would be surprised if the people whose comments made my wife upset enough to leave felt they were denigrating non temple marriages. I’m sure if you asked they would say they were holding temple marriages up at the ideal. It can be a fine line, I guess.

    Changing the meaning of a word has far-reaching consequences.

    We certainly learned that following the church’s support of Proposition 8 which was drafted to restrict the definition of marriage to opposite-sex couples.

    Alcohol is legal but a practicing alcoholic may not have full fellowship in the church.
    Gay marriage is legal but a practicing homosexual may not have full fellowship in the church even if married.

    As a practical matter you are correct, of course, but equating someone’s relationship with a disease is offensive, and that’s the point of this post—Mormons can do better in championing their causes without dragging others through the mud in the process.

  35. I wonder how many church members believe what John F. has said about what church leaders have taught in general conference about non-temple marriages. Here’s an example, from Elder Nelson (outside the five-year window that John F. describes, but I’ll wait for him to provide evidence that Elder Nelson’s position has changed since 2008):

    “My purpose in speaking out on this topic is to declare, as an Apostle of the Lord, that marriage between a man and a woman is sacred—it is ordained of God. I also assert the virtue of a temple marriage. It is the highest and most enduring type of marriage that our Creator can offer to His children.”

    There is no hint in this statement that non-temple marriages are not sacred or not ordained of God.

  36. To answer the question what do church members believe (beside the fact that it’s probably unknown and so much subject to the way the question is phrased and asked that it may be unknowable), I would look to the lessons and rhetoric in the youth programs of the church. It seems to me that this particular culture war (the status of non-temple marriage) is being waged right there, in the minds of our teenagers, and what we hear in adult conversations is mostly an echo of those lessons.

  37. Peter, please tell Kevin to stop being such a regal and royal pain! Point well taken, though.

  38. I second the comments of others regarding the need for adequate information and time outside the temple to carefully consider making covenants. That we are currently expected to go to The House of the Lord to make extreme promises without any prior knowledge of what they will be, and to decide publicly and nearly instantaneously feels more than just outrageous to me–it feels sneaky. God isn’t sneaky. It feels fear-based, like we’re worried less people will go through with it if they know what they’re in for. Our theology clearly explains that the plan to coerce people back to heaven was flatly rejected–so how do we justify using social pressure and time limitations to persuade people to covenant? This point doesn’t even address my concerns with the nature of some of the covenants themselves–specifically ones about marriage relations; apart from what we covenant, the way we covenant deeply concerns me.

  39. CJ… all of those covenant CAN be talked about outside the temple. They are available via scripture and can be talked about, but we choose not too for reasons I don’t understand. The only part of the temple that can’t be shared outside the temple are the parts specifically labeled and ‘don’t not disclose’ … and those aren’t typically the parts the trouble people. Everyone SHOULD know what covenants they’ll be expected to make ahead of time and have the chance to consider them beforehand.

  40. Corbin Mcmillen says:

    Im amazed at how many people arent interested in eternal marriage.
    Every song, every disney movie,
    Every young adult book is about seeking love forever.
    The world is silent when it comes to interest in an actual revealed power
    To keep couoles together forever.

  41. Corbin, that’s oversimplification to a crazy degree. Do you really think the dynamic is that simple, that people just don’t want eternal marriage? C’mon.

  42. Corbin is on to something here Steve. Obviously I didn’t get married in the temple because I hate Disney movies….and the Twilight series.

  43. Paul Ritchey says:

    Are intellectual fairness and charity valuable at BCC? Why do we strive to weaken arguments, rather than to strengthen them? If you believe you’re right, about eternal marriage or alcoholism or whatever (looking at you Peter and Steve), you should want opposing arguments to be at their best, so that there’s nothing left of them when you knock them face down into the mud.

  44. Paul, maybe the goal isn’t to win an argument, but to explore a topic in search of deeper truth…?

  45. I’m not sure I follow, Paul. I don’t feel I’ve been uncharitable in responding to anyone here, but I suppose that ultimately I can’t be the judge of that. For what it’s worth, BCC welcomes intellectual fairness and charity.

  46. In response to Corbin’s original question, which I’ve paraphrased as, “Why don’t more people who are interested in lasting love embrace temple marriage to ensure the eternal survival of their relationships?” (Tell me if I am misrepresenting you Corbin) I would say that many reasons are possible–sevaral of which are that some people don’t believe one organization (the LDS chruch) has the exclusive ability to ensure enduring connection, that parts of the LDS sealing ordinance reflect mortal agendas rather than strictly Divine purposes, and that individuals should be entirely comfortable and at peace before agreeing to any contract–especially one so serious. The more I observe, the more I am convinced that one of the most central questions is, “How much weight do I place on the notion of divine leadership of authority figures, and how much on my conscience?” When instruction and conscience align, life is gravy. But when it doesn’t, it produces much angst. I like Joseph Smith’s assertion that it is “Our burden and our privilege” to work out our own salvation.

  47. Paul Ritchey says:

    CJ’s comment is a prime example of a response that is both fair (it takes pains to avoid misrepresenting another’s argument) and charitable (it casts the other’s argument in the best possible light, or interprets it in the way that makes it most likely to succeed). Cf. Steve’s response to the same question.

    Peter, you might have interpreted Jon Miranda’s comment not as about alcoholism, but as about the consumption of alcohol (the latter of which is not a disease, but is something actually very much akin to homosexuality in one way: it is viewed as sinful by virtually all latter-day saints ,but as morally acceptable, or even virtuous, by many outside the Church). It seems to me that’s what he was getting at.

    But sorry to hijack – back to the topic.

  48. “some people don’t believe one organization (the LDS church) has the exclusive ability to ensure enduring connection”

    Of course, those who are not LDS generally do not believe and are generally not expected to believe that the Latter-day Saints have the sealing power at all. Which other organizations are you referring to that claim the eternal sealing power?

    “parts of the LDS sealing ordinance reflect mortal agendas rather than strictly Divine purposes”

    Could you be more specific here?

    “individuals should be entirely comfortable and at peace before agreeing to any contract–especially one so serious”

    Yes, of course, to the extent that entire peace and comfort about the future is possible. Increasing legal uncertainties were why pre-nuptial contracts were invented. Prenups at least define consequences for being in breach of that specific contract, but they can’t eliminate the uncertainty inherent in contemplating the future, particularly if the future includes an afterlife. Marriage involves a certain leap of faith.

    CJ leaves out an obvious reason in response to Corbin’s question: most people have different views of the nature of the afterlife, including the status of marriage in the afterlife, and many don’t believe in an afterlife at all.

    I am glad CJ brought up conscience. The Supreme Court has conscience rights on its agenda.

  49. There is tension between love and the institution of marriage—or, more precisely, between following the path of love and submitting to authority. Anyone who has experienced love understands that love is what binds us to each other, and it binds us together without the need of external authority. Love is the greatest and most enduring force. So it should not surprise us that people might doubt the necessity of religious rites to make our loving relationships endure.

    Moreover, submitting to authority can damage our relationships. That’s because “it is the nature and disposition of almost all . . . , as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion.” In our desire for eternal promises, we too easily fall into the trap of putting our hope in the institutions that convey those promises. We forget—or sometimes we never learn—that our institutions and authorities are barren without the love that brought them forth.

    It is an act of faith to submit to the institution of marriage, whether it’s a temple marriage or not. We do it in the hope that marriage will channel love’s power in ways that make us better, stronger, more able to serve. We do it because we trust in revealed assurances from God. But neither marriage nor priesthood has eternal power in itself. Only love has that.

  50. One of the first rallying cries of the sexual revolution, repeated endlessly, was “I don’t need a piece of paper to prove that I love you.” In practice this meant “I want to be free to leave you anytime without legal consequences, based on my feelings.” This allowed the parties to keep their options open in case their feelings changed (and feelings did change with surprising frequency) or someone more attractive came along (which also happened frequently). People fell into the trap of putting their hope in fallible, fallen people (the nature of all men) and feelings (which could change at any time). One result of the sexual revolution is that almost half of births in the U.S. now occur outside of marriage, in stark contrast to the situation a generation or two ago. As an exercise, I suggest googling “victims of the sexual revolution.”

    There is a tension between God’s love and power and the fleeting feelings of men which are often termed love and assumed to be equivalent to God’s love. Only God’s love has the power to make things eternal. See 2 Cor. 1: 21-22 and Eph. 1:9-14; also Matt. 16:19, Matt. 18:18, and John 14:15. If it is all done my man’s love or by some abstract concept of love, and not God’s love and power, we don’t need God and Christ at all. That would not be Mormonism. That would not be Christianity. That would be more like Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (MTD), which is was most American teenagers believe in.

  51. I don’t know if you’re responding to me, Leo, but I’ll clarify my point. I know it was obscure. I’m in favor of marriage generally. I’m in favor of temple marriage in particular. My parents were married in the temple, and so was I. My life is better for it.

    But the power of any marriage, whether or not it is solemnized in the temple, comes from the love and commitment and sacrifice of the partners. In the temple we receive the hope of eternal promises, but we don’t get greater access to God’s help in making our marriages work.

    We have to be very careful not to denigrate anyone’s marital commitments. It is too easy to become arrogant in talking about the idea of the eternal family. It’s not like we’re the first ones to think that such a thing is possible. It is a beautiful thing as an extension of the loving marriages that many people already enjoy, but it is not so beautiful when we present it as a contrast.

  52. Leo, I see that I was rather vague. When I say that “some people don’t believe one organization (the LDS church) has the exclusive ability to ensure enduring connection,” I am suggesting that many people outside the church believe in enduring love but are not attracted to a church that claims exclusive ability to perpetuate bonds after death—not because they are uncommitted to eternal love, but because they aren’t convinced they need the LDS ceremony to possess it, and are not afraid they will be stripped from their spouse when they reach the afterlife because they didn’t go to an LDS temple.

    “parts of the LDS sealing ordinance reflect mortal agendas rather than strictly Divine purposes”

    The emphasis in both the endowment and marriage ceremony on female (but not mutual male) hearkening or giving and the future reward of lots of power and dominion is off-putting to some I know, and also to me. I wrestle with the concern that perhaps cultural aspects are intermingled with doctrinal ones in our practices—even in temple ceremonies. But of course, since those issues aren’t discussed specifically before the events, I guess this point is only a potential concern for those who have already undergone the process. But it may be fair to say that some people outside the church are uninterested in exploring temple marriage because of the male-centered nature of our church; I think it’s a tough sell for egalitarians—I’m Mormon and I haven’t even figured out how to reconcile some of our practices with my egalitarian convictions, so I can’t imagine what our “males are in charge” setup looks like to people who weren’t raised in the church and live in a progressively egalitarian culture.

    Regarding being entirely comfortable and peaceful before making commitments, I am speaking about making temple covenants more generally—to be endowed or sealed in the LDS church—as opposed to pursing lasting marriage and salvation in other ways…and not about deciding whether one should marry or simply cohabit. I admit that is a bit of a tangent. I seem to be sorting through various questions I have about our temple covenants and still in clarification process.

    And yes, I agree different views of the afterlife is a major category. What interests me most, though, is considering what people who do believe in an afterlife and the hope of enduring marriages (but are uncomfortable with being sealed in the temple) think about our marriage ceremony.

    I was intrigued by your MTD comment—I really like Christian Smith, and am eager to read his new book, “Religion: What It Is, How It Works, and Why It Matters.” I agree the belief in needing definitive structure and authority to achieve lasting blessings is in major decline. Personally, I’m in the rather awkward position of believing some structure and authority is necessary, while also believing that our covenant wording and pronounced emphasis on following authority figures (rather than deferring to conscience when in doubt) is somewhat off-base…so I’m trying to figure out how to participate most meaningfully.

    Loursat: I agree deeply with your assertion that, apart from the importance of covenants themselves, our personal commitment to loving and sacrificing is absolutely essential to perpetuating bonds—in this life or the next.

  53. The more I observe, the more I am convinced that one of the most central questions is, “How much weight do I place on the notion of divine leadership of authority figures, and how much on my conscience?”

    The most powerful personal revelation I’ve experienced gave me the courage to marry my wife despite the eternal uncertainty the decision entailed.

    Peter, you might have interpreted Jon Miranda’s comment not as about alcoholism, but as about the consumption of alcohol

    I suppose I could have ignored what he actually said, which was to draw a parallel between a “practicing alcoholic” and a “practicing homosexual”, but I don’t think you can accuse me or BCC of unfairness and a lack of charity for responding to what commenters actually say. I mean, the whole point of this post is to respond to some of the (unwitting) ways our discourse delegitimises relationships that differ from our own. If Mormons can’t talk about differing praxis without starting with disease, or sin for that matter, I think we’ll continue to have an outreach problem.

    Marriage involves a certain leap of faith.

    Indeed, whether one marries in or out of the temple, nothing is yet set in stone.

    We do it in the hope that marriage will channel love’s power in ways that make us better, stronger, more able to serve. We do it because we trust in revealed assurances from God. But neither marriage nor priesthood has eternal power in itself. Only love has that.

    An important reminder!

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