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Navigating the New World of Civil Wedding Ceremonies: 3 Ways to Incorporate One Into Your Marriage Sealing

by | Oct. 10, 2019

The recent First Presidency announcement that couples who are civilly married may now be sealed in the temple without delay, regardless of where they live, means that wedding days can be more inclusive and love-filled than ever.

When Rachel and Matt* were married in the Oakland temple, only one dark cloud hung over their wedding day—none of her husband’s family members were able to attend the sealing. “While they seemed okay with it, I really wish we could have been married civilly the same day we were married in the temple so all the people we loved could have been a part of it.” Today Rachel’s wish could be reality. In May, the First Presidency withdrew the policy that required couples who were married civilly in the US or Canada to wait a year before being sealed in the temple. This change means that now, couples preparing to be married can add a civil marriage to their wedding day to provide “more opportunities for families to come together in love and unity during the special time of marriage and sealing of a man and woman.”1

The opportunity to add a civil wedding opens up a new world of possibilities for engaged couples, but it also comes with a host of considerations that may leave couples feeling overwhelmed. What legal requirements do they need to meet? Is an additional ceremony appropriate for them? Is the option beyond their budget? Armed with the guidelines and tips below, couples will be empowered to create their own beautifully inclusive wedding experience.

Traversing the Landscape of Rules and Regulations

The last thing a couple wants is to find their wedding ceremony snagged in a legal muddle or on the wrong side of Church policy. So, what requirements do civil weddings need to meet? While details of the requirements vary depending on location, legal marriages in the US and Canada require the following: a marriage license, a ceremony, an officiant, an adult witness, an exchange of vows, and a marriage certificate. Church meetinghouses can serve as a venue, with the local bishop or branch president dictating how rooms can be used1, but the wedding march and a procession down the aisle aren’t permitted in Church buildings2. The ceremony can be performed by a stake president, mission president, bishop or Latter-day Saint chaplain3, as long as the individual meets the country’s legal requirements to officiate. Beyond this, the Church merely encourages couples to keep civil ceremonies simple and dignified and reminds couples that “[t]his change in policy should not be interpreted as lessening the emphasis on the temple sealing...[T]he sealing is the central focus of the marriage and provides the spiritual basis on which the couple begins their life together.”1

Couples in the US and Canada that are planning to include a civil ceremony with their sealing have the option to be legally married with either ceremony—only one needs to be officially legal. For couples using their sealing as their legally binding ceremony, a ceremony outside the temple can take any form; as long as the important people in their lives feel included, couples can be as creative as they wish.

Photo by Emily Gibby Photography

Should You Add a Ceremony?

As the wave of civil Latter-day Saint weddings begins to rise, couples may feel some pressure to join the crowd. But when is a civil ceremony appropriate? The First Presidency letter states that civil ceremonies prior to sealings are permitted “when a temple marriage would cause parents or immediate family members to feel excluded. With this in mind, couples can tune out the pressures of trends and friends, basing their decision instead on the needs of their closest loved ones.

The First Presidency’s statement makes it clear that couples can and should take the feelings of their family members into consideration when planning their special day. This position dispels past confusion regarding additional ceremonies. Previously, though it was never policy to forbid post-sealing ceremonies, some couples were told that adding ceremonies after their sealing—even for the purpose of easing hurt feelings—demonstrated a lack of respect for their sealing covenants. Though the May announcement specifically addresses pre-sealing civil weddings, the advent of this policy change makes it clear that ceremonies outside the temple, whether before or after the sealing, can be used to unite loved ones on that special day.

Photo by Quincy Lee Photography

Making a Beautifully Inclusive Wedding Experience

It’s important, when planning to add a ceremony outside the temple, to make it a meaningful experience for those involved. When Jennifer was married in the temple, her sister Ashley and Ashley’s fiancé, who had flown all the way from Alabama for the wedding, were not able to witness the sealing. In the hopes of making her sister feel included, Jennifer left the wedding rings with her sister and told her that there would be a small ring exchange outside the temple after the sealing. Small turned out to be an understatement. When the newlyweds left the temple, there was the typical flurry of congratulations and photos, but it was a rainy January afternoon and everyone was anxious to get out of the cold. It was only as all the other guests were walking to their cars that Jennifer noticed that her sister was still patiently standing by waiting to play her part in a “ring ceremony.” With everyone already gone, Ashley and her fiancé stood beside the newlyweds in the drizzle and handed them their rings, which they quickly slipped onto each other’s fingers. “I still regret the way this went down,” Jennifer says, “By failing to plan a specific time and place for a real ring exchange, I unintentionally belittled the part my sister had expected to play in my wedding day.”

Adding a ceremony outside the temple doesn’t have to break the bank to be meaningful. By finding ways to consolidate events, couples are able to make the most of food, venues and other major expenses. With this in mind, here are three ways couples can add a ceremony to their temple sealing:

Sunrise “Elopement”

Couples with a love for the outdoors can begin their wedding day by making their way to their favorite wild spot with an intimate group. There they can exchange simple vows, do a symbolic ceremony, or even have an officiator marry them legally. Later that day they can be sealed in the temple with a larger group, followed by a celebration. By taking their ceremony to a meaningful outdoor location, the couple is spared any additional decorating costs or venue rental. After all, nature is its own decorator and many locations are free to the public.

Ring Ceremony Reception

Following their sealing, couples can take time at the beginning of their reception to stand before their gathered guests to exchange rings. If they don’t plan to have an officiator, they can add meaning to the moment by including their own vows or by sharing reasons why they fell in love. Then the festivities can commence! Though this option takes some extra effort to ensure that guests know to arrive on time to the reception, it makes it possible for couples to take advantage of their already-rented venue, beautiful decorations, and gathered guests.

A Day Leading Up to the Temple

Couples can start their reception with a civil ceremony—whether it be one with a legal officiator or merely an exchange of vows and rings. Following the ceremony, the reception takes place, ending with a grand send-off for the couple as they leave to meet their sealing guests at the temple. Once they are sealed, the couple bids farewell to their last guests and leaves for their honeymoon. Though this option may limit couples to a Saturday wedding, owing to the necessity of an afternoon or early evening reception, it's an option with several advantages.As in the previous option, couples are able to make the most of their venue, decorations, and gathered guests, but with a shift in focus: each event is leading up to their sealing. Rather than having a send-off that celebrates the beginning of the couple’s honeymoon, guests take part in a send-off that celebrates the couple’s departure to make covenants in the House of the Lord.

Photo by LDS Sealing Cards

Invitations: The Key to Being a Gracious Host

As the precedent for Latter-day Saint weddings begins to shift, the need for informative wedding invitations will be greater than ever. Heather experienced this firsthand when she received a beautiful but vague invitation to her friend’s wedding. She anticipated the typical come-when-you-please-grab-a-treat type of reception—there was nothing to indicate otherwise—but when Heather arrived five minutes late, she found herself underdressed and walking in during their civil ceremony. Luckily the couple was running a few minutes behind themselves, or she might have interrupted their heartfelt vows. Heather’s plight could easily befall any guest, and it’s a host’s responsibility to provide enough information to ensure that guests are present when they mean to be and are comfortable when they are there.

Couples can be mindful of their guests by including details regarding dress, the length of the event, and a basic schedule. Though minimalism has been the trend in wedding invitations in the past, embracing wordier invitations or adding a “details” insert can go a long way towards better preparing guests. Couples may find their wedding invitation needs best met by small businesses run by Latter-day Saint designers. Invitations from these sources are designed with multiple events in mind—requiring fewer costly customizations—and are created by designers that are aware of the evolving Latter-day Saint wedding trends.

Each Couple Can Make It Happen

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has always affirmed the importance of the family, and with this policy change, more than ever before, families can be united in love when celebrating the joining of two lives. Couples need only meet the legal requirements of their country, assess their unique family circumstances, and put a plan in place to involve their loved ones who cannot be with them in the temple to be able to create an inclusive wedding experience that everyone will remember with fondness.

*All names have been changed for privacy reasons

Lead Image: Quincy Lee Photography

1. Office of the First Presidency, n.d. https://newsroom.churchofjesuschrist.org/multimedia/file/Sealing-After-Civil-Marriage-Letter.pdf.
2. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. “Music.” Accessed September 2019.https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/manual/handbook-2-administering-the-church/music/music?lang=eng#149.
3. Todd, Jay M. “Information For Brides and Grooms Planning a Temple Marriage.” Accessed September 2019.https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/new-era/1971/06/information-for-brides-and-grooms-planning-a-temple-marriage?lang=eng.

Bromwyn Diehl is the owner and designer behind LDS Sealing Cards, an intimate-style shop specializing in Latter-day Saint wedding invitations and temple sealing inserts. From design to doorstep, she handles each order personally and enjoys the opportunity it affords her to be a part of a special day for so many individuals.

Comments and feedback can be sent to feedback@ldsliving.com