First Presidency Updates Guideline for Performing Civil Marriages

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Geoff Openshaw

Geoff Openshaw

Bishops and other leaders are now more restricted on whom they can marry and where.

Latter-day Saint leaders, including bishops, stake presidents, mission presidents, district presidents, and branch presidents, have long been authorized in some countries or states to perform civil marriages that are recognized by the government. The First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints just revised guidelines on performing such marriages between a man and a woman.

There are three primary changes in requirements:

  • The bride or groom must be a member of the Church.
  • Either the bride or groom (or both) must have his or her records assigned to the same unit as the Church leader performing the marriage.
  • The Church leader must be legally authorized to perform the marriage in the location where it will take place. Not all jurisdictions recognize civil ceremonies performed by Church leaders.

The last bullet is curious. Have there been many bishops going rogue and performing marriages out of state? Why would anyone do that? The marriage certificate would be rendered null.

In the past, Church leaders have been permitted to perform civil marriages for pretty much anyone, so long as they were authorized to do so in the jurisdiction where the marriage took place. Today’s letter from the First Presidency changes that policy by restricting civil marriages to those on Church rolls and of one’s flock.

Say, for example, you are an Arizonan living in Utah and getting married civilly. You are close with your old stake president and would love for him to perform your marriage. Even though you might be traveling home to Arizona for the wedding, that stake president can no longer perform the ceremony because your records are no longer part of that stake. To the courthouse you must go!

Two years ago, the Church updated a longstanding policy that removed the one-year waiting period for those who were married civilly to attend the temple to be sealed. The move was lauded by many, who felt the previous arrangement, which resulted in extra, “faux” ceremonies and/or ring ceremonies, was especially hurtful toward those coming from non-Latter-day Saint families, forcing newlyweds to choose between the temple immediately at the expense of family being present, or opening up the wedding to family members but forgoing a sealing.

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