Notes on the history of the one-year wait

Today the First Presidency announced that “[w]here a licensed marriage is not permitted in the temple, or when a temple marriage would cause parents or immediate family members to feel excluded, a civil ceremony followed by a temple sealing is authorized.” [editorial note: see Jared Cooks comment (#2) below] I thought I would share a few notes about the history of the policy that this announcement changed.

Since arriving in the Great Basin, church leaders have been deeply concerned that people have access to the sealing ceremony, so much so that General Authorities often performed sealings for church members as they traveled far from temples into the twentieth century. It is no surprise that they would also teach the preferability of being sealed over being civilly married. You see this in general and home missionary sermons in the nineteenth century, and in the formation of the sealing policies of the twentieth.

The 1940 General Handbook noted a rise in the desire to “have an elaborate ‘Church Wedding’” among members, something Ardis has noticedchurch leaders dating back to Joseph F. Smith objecting to. The response was to exclude such ceremonies from chapels, and to exhort a focus on “the proper form of marriage.” If people could not enter the temple, then a simple ceremony in “the recreation hall or lounge adjoining” was suggested. However, at this time, local leaders were also instructed to recommend couples to the temple for sealings after civil marriages, as soon as they “feel assured of their personal purity and worthiness.” [n1]

It appears that some time after 1944 church leaders established a waiting period between civil marriages and sealings. I’ve seen various correspondence on the matter but nothing that pinpoints a date or a specific duration for a waiting period. In 1957 a couple appealed to the First Presidency to get permission to be civilly married and then be sealed right after. President McKay approved the request, but the Stake President remonstrated because, having denied other people the same privilege, he felt like it put him in a bad spot. President McKay went on to allow the couple to be sequentially married and sealed. [n2]

The 1960 handbook was the first to include an explicit one-year waiting period for civilly married individuals, but it was complicated. It established four rules: 1) it repeated the 1940 rule above that leaders should give couples recommends as soon as they were assured of their worthiness; 2) “Where couples deliberately refuse temple marriage for reasons of their own, and afterward desire a sealing” they were required to wait one year before receiving a recommend; 3) where parents of the couple were not eligible to enter the temple “yet insist on witnessing the wedding ceremony,” the bishop could apply to the First Presidency for exceptions to the one-year wait time, and proceed immediately; and 4) where couples lived far from a temple and were to travel unchaperoned to a temple for a sealing, it was “advisable” that they be civilly married before travelling, “though only a few days may intervene” between the two ceremonies. [n3]

In 1968, the handbook eliminated all exceptions to the one-year wait time except for those travelling long distances to be sealed. And in 1976 the handbook added the direction that the one-year wait period was not applicable in jurisdictions where law required public marriages, such as Japan and in the temple districts of London, Switzerland, and New Zealand. Moreover it added that “Under no circumstance may a civil marriage ceremony follow a temple marriage. This would be mockery and cannot be condoned.” [n4] The unchaperoned travel exemption was removed from the handbook in 2010, which brings us to today.

____________________________

  1. Handbook of Instructions for Stake Presidencies, Bishops and Counselors, Stake and Ward Clerks and Other Officers, no. 16 (N.p.: n.pub., 1940), 121 and 123. This instruction was repeated in the 1944 edition. Chapels became available for weddings in 1990, Bulletin (1990-2), 1. Commercial marriage locations were still highly discouraged.
  2. DOM, Diary, June 19, 1957. See also entries for December 20, 1863; June 21, 1966; January 26, 1968.
  3. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, General Handbook of Instructions, no. 18 (N.p.: n.pub., 1960), 74. This instruction was repeated in the 1963 edition.
  4. General Handbook of Instructions, no. 21 (N.p.: n.pub., 1976), 55 and 61.

Comments

  1. Carolyn says:

    Thanks J.S. — I’d be curious to see those edits side-by-side with the “ring ceremony” instructions, which in my experience went over the decades from “highly disfavored as a mockery of the temple” to “disfavored but you can do it so long as you shove it in everyone’s faces that this isn’t the real wedding” to “couples are going to do whatever they want and ignore the Handbook in the spirit of trying to include as many family members as possible and they’ll just not invite the Bishop to attend.”

  2. Interesting, J. One quibble: I think the real announcement is “The policy to requiring couples who have been married civilly to wait one year before being sealed is now discontinued. Couples who have been married civilly may be sealed in the temple when they receive their temple recommends.”

    I deal with this in my post, but the line about separate ceremonies being “authorized” under certain circumstances, on my reading, is only a limitation to the instruction that bishops “encourage” couples not to separate the civil ceremony from the sealing. As I read it, couples are allowed to separate the ceremonies under any circumstances they feel is appropriate, and bishops are to encourage them not to, unless it would exclude a parent or immediate family member, but are not to impose a waiting period where the couple is otherwise meeting the standards for having a temple recommend.

  3. What fascinating about this post, J. is how it shows how something that’s initially applied with a lot of exceptions and flexibility takes on a life of its own and gets hardened into something a lot less flexible over time. I bet we could probably think of other examples. The old missionary no-contact-except-for-Mother’s-Day-and-Christmas rule comes to mind.

  4. J. Stapley says:

    Those are both excellent ideas and points, Carolyn and Jared.

  5. J. Stapley says:

    …in fact I just edited the post to point to your comment, Jared.

  6. Wonder how often these more lenient rules become hardened just so the Gas don’t have to spend so much time answering letters to deal with possible exceptions.

  7. Fascinating how the rules develop and change over time. One of the things I look to you for, J. Thank you.
    The next story that should be told, but is even more difficult to develop, is how local leaders and teachers developed explanations and ‘divine guidance’ rationale for a policy that was very painful for some families and some couples.

  8. Christian,

    Your comment seems to imply that policies that are “painful” are somehow incompatible with “divine guidance”. That’s an interesting point of view, but for me, the scriptures are replete with instances where God inspired/commanded/guided something that was painful for some of, much of, or all of humanity.

  9. Dsc, I’m sure we would have some of the same and some different interpretations of the many scripture stories. But that’s a very different conversation than the one I set up or implied or intended. In my experience “very painful” calls to many leaders to give an explanation. Perhaps they’d do better to stick with “sometimes God asks hard things.” But in fact many do give explanations and it’s the history and content of those explanations that I would find interesting.

  10. With respect to a civil marriage after a temple sealing, I recently learned of an ancestor who was sealed as a second wife in the endowment house in 1869 and then married civilly to that same husband in 1887, a few years after the first wife’s death.

    I assume that the 1887 marriage was required (or prudent) to cure any objection that the 1869 sealing was legally invalid (because it violated bigamy laws).

    Do this do you know if this practice was common and whether this was the likely reason for the subsequent civil marriage?

  11. Not a Cougar says:

    Having heard the policy change, my wife is crying right now, and they are not tears of joy. We both still regret getting married in the temple and excluding our close family on both sides, most importantly her dad.

  12. Leonard R says:

    J.,

    Thanks for adding a number of details to our collective understanding.

    Not a Cougar,

    While my wife’s views are perhaps not as clear cut, her tears were definitely a mixture of joy and pain for the same reason. Even though her dad joined the Church a decade after our marriage, there is still no going back and undoing the fact that her father was not there on her wedding day. We had been married a week before we saw him for our second reception.

    A long overdue change… and no undoing the cost of it.

  13. I think the prohibition on civil marriage immediately preceding a sealing was in place before 1944, based on my families experience.

    In the early years of WW2, my aunt married her fiance just a week or so prior to his deployment to the Pacific Theater. They then traveled with family to the Logan Temple to be sealed a few days later. When they arrived in Logan they were informed that they could not be sealed because they had been civilly married first.

    It took the intervention of a phone call from a senior GA relative to reverse that decision.

  14. J. Stapley says:

    MJP, Mormons still cared about legal marriage and the protections it offered. Especially during “the raid” in 1887. So yeah, that sort of thing was very common.

    NaC, yeah, there is a lot of that going on right now, and rightly so.

    Jb, yeah it very well may be earlier. I haven’t had a chance to compare notes with Ardis, and she likely has important material to add to this.

  15. GEOFF -AUS says:

    This announcement came up on my facebook. I am pleased by the announcement, but concerned by many of the comments claiming revelation, and God being responsible. I checked the announcement and there is no mention of God or revelation.
    Is it blasphemy, or taking the name of God in vain, or something else, to attribute something to God when those responsible don’t?
    I would not be impressed if someone made me responsible for something I had nothing to do with.

  16. ethchr says:

    GEOFF-AUS raises an interesting point. I find it curious that this this change doesn’t use the revelation framework/justification that so many recent policy changes have had. Not sure what there is to take from that. Thanks J for the history!

  17. B Miller says:

    They really need to apologize to people who were hurt by this doctrine/policy in the oast when they change these things. While they are wonderful changes for the future the pain of the past is re-opened for so many good people as the emotional anvil of what might have been falls upon them.

  18. “The unchaperoned travel exemption was removed from the handbook in 2010”
    Wait, what? Can you give more details on this? Does this mean married people had to have a chaperone if they were heading to the temple to get sealed?

  19. J. Stapley says:

    Frank, the idea was that if a couple had to travel significant distance to the temple “unchaperoned,” then it was advisable for them to be civilly married first. I imagine the thinking was that for many church members, temples were far away it is was a significant expense, including accommodations. Better to have those coupled married if they were going to be travelling together.

  20. J. Stapley, thanks. I wonder what the impetus was for removing it, the increase in Temples or abuse of the privilege, thinking the Temple 6 hours away was “just too far”.

  21. “They really need to apologize to people who were hurt by this doctrine/policy in the oast when they change these things.” Why? Does Jesus need to apologize for saying “He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.”

    Not every hurt feeling merits an apology. Not every change in policy indicates that the prior policy was a mistake or was “wrong” in some way.

  22. it's a series of tubes says:

    Not every change in policy indicates that the prior policy was a mistake or was “wrong” in some way.

    Ah, but sometimes it does. c.f. Jacob 5:65-66.

  23. This afternoon I transcribed a pair of letters from early 1919. A young man from Santaquin who had served as a missionary was, in 1919, a soldier stationed at Fort Snelling, Minnesota. He was engaged to a local woman who had been through the temple in Utah a couple of years earlier.

    Because they had both been endowed, they were a little queasy about marrying outside the temple, and especially having to wait a year for a sealing if they did marry civilly. But the brides’ parents “thought it would be better for them to be married here [Minnesota] and travel west as husband and wife.” They sought advice from Heber J. Grant, who responded that “it would be better to go to the Temple, but if they promise to do so as soon as they come here, [mission president] may marry them.”

    I’ve seen many such letters. Couples in that situation had burdens that we today might not be aware of: 1. Marrying civilly after you’ve been to the temple was considered akin to apostasy (I don’t know, but suspect from the number of letters mentioning this that specific temple instructions regarding this may have been different back in the day). 2. Any unmarried couple traveling together over night without chaperones was at risk of having their reputations severely damaged. 3. The Mann Act (1910) made it a federal crime to transport a woman across state lines for immoral purposes — the Mann Act was used viciously against black men in the Jim Crow era; it’s not beyond belief to fear that some troublemaker could have accused a Mormon elder under that law.

  24. J. Stapley says:

    Thank you, Ardis. That is incredible helpful.

  25. Frank Pellett, the statement was: “where couples lived far from a temple and were to travel unchaperoned to a temple for a sealing, it was “advisable” that they be civilly married before travelling, “though only a few days may intervene” between the two ceremonies.”

    What you have to remember is that up until 1974, just speaking of the United States, the closest temple for everyone East of the Mississippi River was the Logan, UT temple. (SLC is 10 miles further West). And if you were traveling by car, it would take you 2-3 days to arrive at the temple. Hotel accommodations and all come into question so we’re not just talking about a 6 hour drive in a car. I expect that rule remained as a relic of that time period but also fits with the general expectation that married men and women who are not married to each other should not travel alone in a car together. The Church just had issues with bad things that can happen when a man and a woman are alone in a car for long periods of time.

  26. And by that last sentence I was really implying Ardis’ discussion of how unmarried couples risked their reputations. I had not thought about the legal implications but she’s definitely right, a Mormon Elder could easily be targeted if identified by some Southern Sheriff where we were very skeptically regarded.

  27. Alain, I was in no way speaking to the necessity of the policy (which I’m sure was sorely needed), but of the impetus for removing it. Why something stops can be just as interesting as why it starts.

  28. Rockwell says:

    My grandfather and grandmother were engaged to be married at the beginning of World War 2. My grandfather enlisted in the war effort before he told her he was going to do it. She was furious. He left for the war unmarried. When he returned, she met him getting off the boat. They immediately got married and then made a road trip to Utah to “seal the deal”. The way she told it to me, this was common practice for soldiers coming home from the war. Although they would have been permitted in the temple, they missed most of their grandchildren’s weddings primarily due to health problems.

    My other grandparents were never sealed in the temple. One of them would have liked to be sealed, and the other had no interest. Neither of them were permitted to attend my parents’ temple wedding nor did they attend their grandchildren’s weddings, but they were present in the waiting rooms and receptions.

  29. Patrick says:

    “In 1968, the handbook eliminated all exceptions to the one-year wait time except for those travelling long distances to be sealed. And in 1976 the handbook added the direction that the one-year wait period was not applicable in jurisdictions where law required public marriages….”

    Sorry for the long story, but in 1980 my wife and I encountered another exception that was in the Handbook at the time. We became engaged just a few months after her baptism. At that time there was also an exception for recently baptized members: if a couple could not marry in the temple because one or both had been a member less than a year, but were otherwise eligible, they could be sealed in the temple as soon as the year of membership was reached, even if they were married civilly in the interim. We were counseled by our local leaders to go ahead and get married, and go to the temple when she reached her year of membership. Six months after her baptism, we were married by our Bishop in a member’s home, with all our family and friends in attendance.

    Shortly after the wedding, we moved to a different stake. As her baptismal anniversary approached (in early 1981), we went to our new Bishop to get our recommends. At first, he insisted that we had to wait a year from our civil wedding. Luckily, we were able to point him to the relevant page number and paragraph in the Handbook, and he eventually acknowledged that he didn’t know the waiting period policy as well as he thought he did. He gave us our recommends, and we made our appointment with the Stake President. We also went ahead and scheduled our sealing at the Temple.

    The evening before our recommend appointment, we were notified that the Stake President had canceled after learning of our civil marriage six months earlier. I spent the following day on the phone, alternating between the Stake President and the Temple Recorder’s office. It took three calls from the Temple Recorder to convince the Stake President that the Handbook meant what it said – that, or the Temple had been doing it wrong for 20 years (!). We finally got an 11th hour appointment with a counselor in the Stake Presidency, the night before our sealing.

    To the Stake President’s credit, we heard that at the next Bishopric Training meeting he made sure everyone was up to speed on what the Handbook *actually* said about the one-year waiting period. Still, it was unfortunate that we had to fight so hard just to get people in authority to set aside what they “knew” and get them to actually *read* the policy – and even then, to accept the clear language of the Handbook and acknowledge that there was something they didn’t know. And that was only because *we* knew what the Handbook said, and weren’t afraid to stick our necks out. Unfortunately, many members don’t know that they can read the Handbook for themselves, if they’ll just ask to see it.

  30. J. Stapley says:

    Patrick, that is a good point. I didn’t include that exception in the post as it was a little complicated to Ecolab quickly in a blog post. I probably should have done the work to include it.

  31. Patrick says:

    Jonathan, don’t feel bad – we had to parse the language of the exception with our Bishop so he could understand what it was actually saying…!

  32. Patrick, whether members can read the Handbook for themselves if they’ll just ask to see it is a function of local leadership roulette. Even on matters that have been in publicly available handbooks, and of much less significance than temple sealings, I have heard general authorities, stake presidency members, and bishopric members insisting they knew what and how things were to be done in ways contrary to the then current handbooks. I wish your last sentence were more generally correct than it has been in my experience.