A Staff Report from the Straight Dope Science Advisory Board

What's the story on secret Mormon weddings?

December 17, 1999

Dear Straight Dope:

What's the story with Mormon weddings?  A friend of mine flew all the way to Salt Lake City last summer to see his old college chum jump the broom, only to be told at the last minute that, because he was not LDS, he'd have to sit outside the temple for a couple hours on a sweltering day.  My modest digging on this subject has turned up bubkus: Mormon folk just don't want to talk about it--part of the religion's notorious bent for secrecy no doubt--but the other things I've heard range from the mundane (the bride and groom go through a series of rooms and are asked questions about the Book of Mormon) to the bizarre (not worth repeating in a family newspaper, though "Caligula" springs to mind). So . . . why all the secrecy? What's the Straight Dope?

Hal, while the Mailbag appears only on the Web, any "family newspaper" that carries the Straght Dope deserves what it gets. But in any case, that Caligula stuff is way off base.  After some research, I found the whole thing to be goofy [Ed.'s clarification: Ian found it to be goofy. Chip, who is Mormon, did not], but no more so than wedding ceremonies for other religions, and in no way debase or immoral. Anyway:

First off, there is a difference between the wedding itself and the "endowment," which takes place some time before the wedding. Many males first undergo their endowments when they are called to be missionaries, at 19, but those who don't, including most females, are first endowed immediately prior to their weddings. Like all Mormon temple rituals, these ceremonies are private and are never witnessed by non-members of the LDS church.  The endowment ceremonies include a ritualized washing and anointing of the body, a new name given to the anointee, and reception of the Mormon garments to be worn under the clothes.

Now, there are two types of marriage in the LDS church:

(1) Temple marriage for "time and eternity," which can only be consecrated in the temple. As with all other temple ceremonies, only members in good standing and who are eligible to enter the temple may attend.  Thus even some Mormons (bad 'uns) are obliged to swelter outside with the gentiles during an LDS wedding.

(2) Marriage "for time only." This type is consecrated in the chapels and is for both (a) marriages between LDS members who can't enter the temple as of yet, and (b) marriage between one LDS member and a non-member.

What's described here is the temple wedding.  This can be undergone only be undergone by a couple with current "temple recommends," that is, able to pass an interview with a temple bishop, swearing they regularly attend church, participate in the church community, and are free from drugs and other moral impurity. If one or both are unable to receive a temple recommend, they often choose to undergo a civil ceremony, waiting some time, often a year, to be married at the temple.

From here it gets complicated. First you have to understand that devout Mormons never, ever talk about temple ceremonies outside the temple--it's considered a defilement.   So Chip was no help.  Second, while there are a number of outsider accounts of Mormon weddings, most of these describe the ritual as it took place prior to 1990. In 1990, the LDS church underwent a much-publicized reform, but the details of the reformation have been closely guarded and haven't had all that much time to leak out. Finally, you should know that most outsider accounts come from people hostile to the Mormons.  So the following needs to be taken with a grain of salt.

The completion of the temple wedding at one time involved a re-enactment of several biblical stories, including the creation and the giving of laws from Jehovah to his people. Some sources indicate this re-enactment has been changed since 1990, either removed or done on video. During the ceremony, the participants learn--I hesitate to bring this up--secret handshakes and signs. This, most agree, harkens back to Joseph Smith's involvement with Freemasonry, and many of the secrets closely parallel those of the Masons, as does the notion of the ceremony's secrecy itself. Formerly, there were dire penalties stated for revealing the secrets, including having one's throat slit or being disemboweled, again taken almost directly from the Masons.  These symbolic gestures were likely the source of many insidious rumors, and in any case most of the penalties were swept away in the 1990 reform.

Finally, the husbands and wives meet. There is a symbolic embrace through a veil, a final review of the vows and pledges, and the veil is lifted, leaving the couple in an embrace. The wedding itself, that is, the "sealing" of the couple, is quite standard for Judeo-Christian sects--the couple kneels before an altar, they are advised on their duties as a couple by a leader of the temple, and they are wed. This last portion is also undergone when a couple is married by proxy, that is, when a living couple stands in for one that has passed on, to ensure that they are sealed together in the afterlife.

Afterward, couples often chooses to have a more public "ring ceremony," outside of the temple, for friends and relatives who could not attend the temple ceremony. This includes much of the standard stuff that old college chums expect to see at a wedding.

To repeat, it may seem weird, but come on, the ritual of a wedding is bizarre in the first place. If you've been to many weddings, you've undoubtedly seen bells, candles, pillows, flowers, veils, readings, and rings, each used in their prescribed, ritualized manner, and a series of events ranging from the walk down the aisle to the best man losing the ring to the bride and groom smearing cake in each other's face, and no one butSDSTAFF Lil has ever complained.

Hey, it could be worse. At Ian's wedding reception he had to dance the Achy-Breaky AND the Electric Slide.

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