Latter-day Saint leaders tinker — again — with temple marriages

Couples no longer will wed for “time only” in temples, which will be reserved exclusively for eternal marriage sealings.

In a move to underscore the importance of temple wedding covenants in which partners promise to marry “for time and all eternity,” top leaders in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are ending a practice that dates back to the faith’s 19th-century origins — namely, “time-only marriages” in temples.

These limited vows were meant mainly for widows, who were “sealed” to their deceased first spouses and could not marry again for eternity.

There were sealings for “time only” in the Nauvoo Temple in the 1840s, “so all the way back,” said Latter-day Saint historian Matthew Bowman. “Generally, it was done then according to the notion of levirate marriage: The sealed wife of a dead man would be sealed to somebody else for time.”

This is how pioneer-prophet Brigham Young “was sealed to several of [church founder] Joseph Smith’s plural wives, for instance,” said Bowman, who directs Mormon studies at Claremont Graduate University in Southern California. “So far as I know, it has continued, though less frequently.”

On Monday, President Russell M. Nelson and his two counselors in the governing First Presidency, wrote in a letter to the church’s general and local authorities that the Utah-based faith was discontinuing the practice.

“Because of the eternal nature of the temple and the work that takes place there, it has been decided that time-only marriages in the temple will no longer be performed,” the leaders wrote. “In the case where a couple desires to be married civilly and where a sealing is not contemplated or possible, the couple is encouraged to invite their bishop or stake president — where it is legal — to officiate at the marriage ceremony.”

It is interesting to note that Nelson and his first counselor, Dallin H. Oaks, both married a second woman in the temple after their first wives died. They were, however, also sealed to their second spouses for eternity.

Latter-day Saints believe that “temple sealings ensure that death cannot separate loved ones,” according to the church website. “For marriage relationships to continue after death, those marriages must be sealed in the right place and with the right authority. The right place is the temple and the right authority is the priesthood of God.”

To Bowman, author of “The Mormon People: The Making of an American Faith,” the decision to stop “time-only” temple weddings is “part and parcel of the recent removal of the one-year waiting period for American Saints who are married civilly and who wish to be sealed [without a long delay].”

That 2019 change created “a single global standard for Latter-day Saint couples,” the church said at the time. “We anticipate that this change will 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.”

The latest temple policy revision, Bowman said, “is part of the growing desire to separate sealings from civil marriage, and to emphasize the sacramental and hence eternal elements of the former.”

Speaking of temples, the church also announced Tuesday that, starting in June and July, 60 temples, including the 15 operating ones in Utah, will allow all the ordinances to be performed for the living and the dead — though by appointment only. It’s part of the gradual resumption of temple activities as COVID-19 restrictions ease.