Civil Weddings

I performed the civil marriage of my son and you can do the same for your children.

About a year ago, May 2019, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, changed a policy that was largely unique to members living in the United States; the Church allowed temple marriages to be performed immediately after civil ceremonies. (Previously, a one year waiting period was required.)

Due to the previous prohibition and theological reasons, civil marriages have been considered profoundly inferior. It will be interesting to see how this policy change plays out in the culture, especially in majority Mormon areas. I am one that thinks there is a wonderful and powerful opportunity in this change, but we, as a Mormon community, need to learn to take advantage of it. My intent with this post is to demonstrate one example.

But first, a little context.

The $10 Wedding

For many years (and a small fee), it has been possible to submit a brief application and become a mail-order minister. The internet has made it extremely easy through organizations such as American Marriage Ministries. But, the notion of “buying authority” is contemptible in the LDS culture (and $50 may seem like too much).

But, in Utah (for merely $10) any adult citizen of the state can be the official designee to formally record a single marriage.

From the Audience: “That’s not ‘real’ authority, that can only come from God.”

Parental Authority

Religionists will argue that marriage is “ordained of God.” That may be the case within the framework of the church. But, there is no marriage ceremony or authority defined in the Bible (here and here).

In its essence, a marriage is a uniting of familial houses and a commitment (or covenant) between bride and groom. The union is documented publicly as recognition before the community of a new family (or house) and the associated goods are jointly possessed by the house. An important part of a Jewish wedding in the Old Testament was the contract signed by the couple. The modern marriage certificate similarly requires the signatures of the couple, witnesses, and a recognized civil authority (often a minister) in order to be legally recorded.

If we view marriage as a formal recognition of a self-determined commitment of the couple and a uniting of families, the approval and recognition of parents becomes paramount. Adam and Eve are often considered to have been married by God, their Creator and Father. In the first marriage sealings under Joseph Smith, he authorized family members of the bride to perform the union ceremony (often stating the words to the newly authorized man while Joseph stood with the bride).

Whether combined with institutional religious authority or not, direct participation of the parents in the wedding ceremony can add a level of significance. Doing so before the very community with whom the couple will be interacting is similarly meaningful.

Customized Ceremony

While an LDS temple marriage may have it’s place as a recognition of divine authority, it is often a rote ceremony performed by a stranger before a minimal group of adult family members. Adding a civil ceremony has the potential to invoke familial authority and greater community involvement, including children.

From the audience: “Oh, but holding a civil ceremony detracts from the sacred temple ordinance.”

That argument could be used for any event held prior to or following the wedding, including a reception, honeymoon trip, the wedding night, or opening gifts. Nevertheless, I will agree that a civil ceremony can be very personal and meaningful to the couple, family, and guests. Ultimately, we must recognize that temple sealings and civil marriages are different not competing events.

Wedding Ceremony of My Children

The marriage of my son, Cannon, to his bride, Tory, was performed on the beach of the Great Salt Lake with only the parents and a photographer present. (The extant pandemic precluded a traditional gathering.) The location was Tory’s choice and was meaningful to both of them.

There are many examples of wedding ceremony scripts, but if you are a parent of a couple and will be performing the ceremony, I encourage you to write your own. You might even consider involving the other parents in some way. The following is the script that I wrote for my son and his bride (and has been simplified for this post).

The script consists of several sections. You may wish to structure your own in a way that incorporates elements that represent the desires of the couple. Some weddings will include the exchanging of vows. Tory and Cannon did not wish to do this. Of course, I’m not one to miss a teaching opportunity before a captive audience, so the preamble may be a bit long.

Introduction

Both of you have grown up in an environment where obedience was emphasized. This is not necessarily a bad thing, it is right and good at a certain time of life. But if we focusing on obedience too long, we miss the real message. And that is the transformative message of willingness. Obedience may keep us safe, but it is willingness that allows us to grow and learn, even in the midst of failure.

In the Genesis account of human creation. “The LORD God formed man from the dust of the ground” (Genesis 2:7) and then turned him loose in the garden to “till and keep it” (2:15). Apparently, he wasn’t keeping up with the work, because God said “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.”

Now, in our minds we think, “this is where woman comes in,” but that would be wrong. Instead, God brings to Adam “every animal of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them.” This is not a simple case of Adam giving them names. In this context, calling or naming implies a purpose or a function. So, after seeing all of the animals, Adam concludes that “there was not found a helper as his partner (2:18-20).”

Now we get to the deep sleep and rib part. However, there is some additional context needed. In Hebrew, “adam” means human. Not, a man, or a single person, but mankind.

Next, the Hebrew word for rib implies half, like a half of an animal. We might say “side of beef.” Literally, something that is split in two. With these concepts in mind, listen to this again.

God creates humankind and realizes that the work isn’t getting done. Of all of the animals, none is suitable to be a companion.

“So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then he took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man (Gen 2:21-22).”

You might say that man, or humankind, was split in two, then stitched up to make a functional, but incomplete individual. Adam’s work, or humankind’s work, can only be done with a complementary pair.

I would also extend this incompleteness: As two individuals, united as one, you are still incomplete. It is only when you extend your circle to include those around you, the two houses from which you come and your community, that you can become complete. Marriage is a uniting of two individuals and all of those with whom you interact.

It is these two principles upon which this ceremony is based:

Willingness to become more than you are and
humility to accept incompleteness.

Commitment

I will ask a series of questions of each of you. You only need to answer the final question.

Cannon, are you…

  • willing to accept Tory as she is and are you willing to be accepted as you are.
  • willing to help Tory and to be helped by her.
  • willing to understand and to be understood.
  • willing to talk and to listen.
  • willing to assume the best intentions and willing to be your best.
  • willing to forgive and be forgiven.
  • willing to improve yourself and help her improve.
  • willing to do hard things and help her do hard things.
  • willing to suffer when she/he is suffering and allow him to suffer with you.
  • willing to trust and to be worthy of trust.
  • willing to look for happiness and to be happy.

Cannon, are you willing to accept Tory as she is and as she may become and to become more than you are?

Tory, are you… (Same are above.)

Acceptance

Next, I want you to repeat after me.

Cannon Repeats

Tory, standing before my father and your father, my mother and your mother, I am willing to be your husband, your life partner, and your friend. I give to you half of all that I am and trust you to care and respect me as yourself. I take you as my wife and accept all of the obligations and commitments as your husband.

Tory Repeats

(Same as above.)

Ring Exchange

Cannon Repeats

As a symbol of my love and a part of me that I willingly give to you, I place this ring on your finger and commit myself to you.

Tory Repeats

(Same as above.)

Pronouncement

Tory and Cannon, authorized by the state of Utah and as your father, I pronounce you husband and wife.

Please kiss as an acceptance of this union.

(The end. … And the beginning.)

Conclusion

We can become trapped by habit, tradition, or culture, making alternatives seem wrong. Civil marriage ceremonies have the potential to be complementary to existing temple sealings. They are an opportunity to involve all family and friends into a unique and personal celebration of commitment and love.

The above ceremony script may be nothing like what you would expect, but that’s part of the point: You (or the bride and groom) get to explicitly decide what is most meaningful and personal.

Be creative, engage family and friends, have fun, and make it a unique experience for everyone.

Eugene

3 thoughts on “Civil Weddings”

  1. Love that you had the opportunity to perform this marriage and customize it! What a beautiful gift! Our Bishop married us and it was great, BUT, this would have had even more meaning!

    1. I had one bishop tell me that the marriages he performed were typically only about 3 minutes. If the intent is to merely declare a legally binding relationship, that may be sufficient. But, I think that if that is all it is, then it is an opportunity missed.

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