SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints changed wedding rules Monday in hopes of preventing family members who aren't church members from feeling excluded.
Couples who get married in civil ceremonies will no longer have to wait one year to do a temple wedding ceremony that only members in good standing can attend, the faith said in a news release .
Church leaders said it will allow "families to come together in love and unity," but doesn't lessen the temple ceremony the faith believes seals the couple for eternity.
Religious scholar Matthew Bowman said the old wedding rule was designed to encourage couples to get married in a temple and have a reception or "ring ceremony" afterward, but sometimes created heartache for families with mixed religious affiliations.
Church convert Aubri Alvarez said her mother cried on the steps of the Albuquerque temple while she and her husband went through the wedding ceremony inside. Alvarez, 19, said the reception after her wedding last year "softened the blow," but it was painful for her evangelical parents not to be able to participate in their only daughter's wedding.
"My parents also love God and are very nice people and they couldn't see their daughter get married," Alvarez said. "This change will help a lot of people who are not born into the church. You really had to choose between the church and your family."
The modification signals the latest change under the leadership of church President Russell M. Nelson, who has made a host of changes since taking over in January 2018. The 94-year-old former surgeon recently rescinded rules banning baptisms for children of gay parents and branding same-sex couples apostates subject to excommunication.
He has also launched a campaign calling on people to stop using the shorthand names "Mormon" and "LDS," severed the faith's ties with the Boy Scouts of America after a century, shortened Sunday worship by an hour and revised a sacred temple ceremony to give women a more prominent role.
At the heart of issue with weddings is a requirement that only members following the rules of the faith who are approved for "temple recommend" cards can worship inside temples.
Church leaders don't disclose how many members have these permissions, but it's believed to be less than half, said Bowman, an associate professor of history at Henderson State University in Arkadelphia, Arkansas.
That means even some mostly Latter-day Saint families were left with family members who can't attend the temple ceremonies. The receptions, "or ring ceremonies," that occur afterward aren't supposed to resemble a wedding, leaving those left out of the temple feeling like they missed the most important moment, Bowman said.
"There were feelings of exclusion, feelings of separations of families," Bowman said. "Many people experience sadness because that."
Bowman predicted that more church members will have a civil ceremony first with more of the trappings of a traditional American wedding, such as the bride walking down the aisle and an exchange of vows. Those traditions were not part of the "ring ceremonies," he said.
Church leaders said Monday they still want the civil ceremonies to be "simple and dignified" to keep the focus on the temple ceremony.
The rule change will mostly impact people in the United States and Canada because church members in many foreign countries are already required by law to get married civilly first before a temple ceremony, the faith said.