A Pay to Play Wedding

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Today is our 13th Anniversary!  13 years of laughter, joy, victories, heartache, despair, failures and everything in between.  Our wedding day was supposed to be the most memorable and happy day of our union together but ours had a dark cloud overhead.  Imagine that you’re not allowed to see the person you love (a child, sibling or friend) get married.  You can’t see them look at their chosen spouse and make those vows.  Now flip that around and imagine the people you love the most won’t get to share that celebratory occasion.

Why is this happening?  Because the religion you belong too dictates it.  Why would you go along with a belief that leaves your loved ones standing outside the building, while you are in an upper room getting married?  Because you sincerely believe you are doing what God wants you to do and the tremendous sacrifice you’re making, the pain in your heart and that of the people you love, is the price of the ticket into heaven with your Eternal Family.  This.  This act of denying the people closest to you the privilege of seeing you take this step in life, is considered courageous, valiant and the most morally correct act you can perform.

Scan 133490066Your mother is miles away from your wedding, keeping herself distracted by making your cake because she can barely contain the sorrow and anger, as she isn’t allowed to see her son commit himself to the love of his life, simply because she continues to stand up against men in “authority” who are hurting her younger son to control her and her husband.  That was the price of her ticket.

Your Dad is standing outside the Temple, being supportive and loving, while having small talk with people about the weather and whatever else they can discuss to avoid the elephant in the room…. “Why are you not in that building with your son?”

Barry's Family

Barry’s Family

The answer would be:  4 months prior to the wedding my parents were unofficially disfellowshipped, due to them being in a fight with local Mormon leadership (Bishop & Stake President) over my 12 year old brother getting his Eagle Scout when he turned 13.  Understand Bonnie and I were engaged for 8  months and the Mormon leadership knew it.  One could make the case that the Bishop & Stake President did this, at this time, to apply maximum pain to my parents for their unwillingness to backdown from injustice. (So much to discuss here but that’s a post for another day)  The Mormon Leadership told my parents they could attend church and take the sacrament (communion) but they couldn’t participate or talk to anyone when there because they had become “disruptive.”  Apparently standing up for yourself and your child’s innocence is enough cause for you to miss your own child’s wedding.  Ticket Stamped.

Bonnie and her Bridesmaids

Bonnie and her Bridesmaids

Your siblings were not able to attend because they were either too young and haven’t gone through the Mormon temple yet or they didn’t live up to the “standards” set by the church.  Yes, if you are a kid under the age of 18, you are never permitted to see a wedding, regardless of who’s getting married.  Even if you are 18 or older, you have to have previously gone through the temple or you are denied access.  None of Bonnie’s bridesmaids were able to see her get married, even though they were all Mormon and over the age of 18.  My older brother wasn’t able to enter the temple because he had just gone through a divorce and he hadn’t paid a “full tithe” that year (10% of your total income).  Yup, he would have to pay all the tithing owed that year for this “privilege.”  Most people know the financial stress divorce puts on individuals and the fact that the Mormon church was unbending in allowing my brother to be in my wedding is ridiculous.  The Church basically said, “Which is more important to you?  Money for food, rent and child support or pay back all the tithing you ‘owe’ so you can participate in your brother’s wedding?”  He made the right choice but that’s a decision that should never have to be made.  Ticket Please.

Barry and Meredith

Barry and Meredith

Your friends are not Mormon.  Not a single one.  They had to sit outside of the temple, along with the large majority of my family, and wish they were able to see me get married.  Imagine your best friend gets married, your the Best Man, and yet are outside the building and aren’t allowed in…..  I didn’t put my place in their shoes until this past year.  I’ve spoken with my friends and have apologized.  Their response is amazing.  They were heartbroken and wished they could have shared that life experience with me but they understood I was Mormon and that was my belief.  They accepted me, even though it caused them harm and hurt feelings.  That’s a true friend!  Love you Dobie, Ben, Meredith, Becca, Dinah and all the others who missed my wedding!

Does this sound like the desires of a loving God?  Is this the plan and wishes of a Father in Heaven?  This isn’t forgiveness.  This isn’t charity, the pure love of Christ.  These are NOT the actions of a merciful or just God who preaches about the sanctity of Family.  Where’s the mercy in denying family/friends access to a wedding?  Where’s the justice for the engaged couple who did everything their church told them to do, to be “worthy” of this moment, only to look over and see empty seats?  Where’s the condemnation for the religion that is doing this and selling it as beautiful, inspiring and correct?

Bonnie and I were married on December 15, 2000 in the Houston Texas Mormon Temple.  That means, only active WORTHY members of the LDS Church were permitted to see us make our vows.  To be worthy one must attend their regular weekly meetings, believe that Joseph Smith saw God & Jesus and restored the true gospel of Jesus Christ, believe there is a man who communicates directly with God today and he is the president of the Mormon Church and last, but not least…. you have to give 10% of your total income to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints for the building up of the kingdom of Zion on the earth.  Yes, you must be a full tithe payer, if you want to see your child, sibling or friend get married.  You must pay to play.

I’m sure that statement, “Pay to Play” is offensive to many LDS people but it’s the truth.  Quite frankly, it is offensive to deny people access to a wedding because of a difference in belief or because they couldn’t afford to pay the doorman.

To further illustrate how this impacted our wedding, I’ll list the people who were NOT allowed to see us get married, then compare it to the list of people who did:

NOT ALLOWED

Barry with his groomsmen

Barry with his groomsmen

From Barry’s Family/Friends:

  • Mormon Parents
  • Mormon Older Brother
  • Mormon Younger Sister & Brother
  • ALL his Friends, including All Groomsmen and Closest Friends

From Bonnie’s Family/Friends:

  • Two Sisters (one is Mormon)
  • Brother
  • ALL of her Friends, including Bridesmaids and Closest Friends

Wow, typing that out just made it even more depressing.  To be fair, let me list the people who were able to attend that we still communicate with:

ALLOWED

Bonnie with her Parents

Bonnie with her Parents

From Barry’s Friends/Family:

  • Older Sister and Her Husband
  • Grandparents

From Bonnie’s Friends/Family:

  • Parents
  • Grandma
  • Aunt & Uncle

Yup, that’s the complete list.  There were more people there but they were social acquaintances and not people we keep in touch with.

One would think not having our family and friends at our wedding would cause outrage, forcing Bonnie and I to chose to have a civil marriage, so everyone could attend and share in the experience.  That would be false.  While we were extremely frustrated and hurt, we were so indoctrinated to Mormonism that we believed we were doing what God instructed, regardless of the pain and confusion it caused.  It was the responsibility of each person who was not able to attend our wedding to either get worthy or join the Mormon Church, as we weren’t going to not do as God had instructed us.  The blame wasn’t on us… it was on them.  We were engaged for 8 months; they knew it was coming.

We’re ashamed to admit but that was our attitude and perspective.  Pathetic.  We never once put ourselves in the shoes of these people we so dearly loved and asked, “How do they feel?”  While we would love to fully blame the Mormon Church, a lot of that blame lies on us.  We didn’t see it as a problem.  It’s something we are working hard to rectify now.

Also, if you are Mormon and decide to get a civil marriage (not in the temple) you have to wait a year to get married in the temple, according to Mormon rules.  There’s no doctrinal reason for this but it applies a tremendous amount of pressure for young people to not even consider a civil marriage.  Oh, and there is a considerable amount of cultural shaming, if you don’t get married in the temple.  People wonder things like, “What sins did they commit that made them unworthy” or “They don’t have a true testimony of God’s plan or the temple” or “If something happens and they die before they could get married in the temple, they won’t be together in the afterlife.”

The pressure and stress of everything going on, especially with dramatic events my parents were going through, caused Bonnie to want to elope.  Just us.  I thought she would always regret not having a wedding with everyone there so I wouldn’t agree to it.  In hindsight, I should have listened to Bonnie.  She was right.  Dammit, she’s always right!

Bonnie's Family

Bonnie’s Family

There are two emotions we feel right now: Anger and Shame.  I am much more angry than Bonnie (she’s just a better person) but we both are incredibly ashamed of how selfish we were.  Yes, it was our wedding and we’re allowed to be selfish but we never truly considered how others were being affected by our decisions.  While it’s 13 years too late, we get it.  We know you loved us so much that you never once complained about not being allowed to see our wedding.  In fact, you showed up at the temple and waited outside, while we and the Mormon Church said, “You’re not worthy.”  You showed up at our reception with a smiling face, warm heart and even a gift (some of them quite expensive), never speaking of your heartache.  13 years later you simply say, “It was your belief and you were doing what you felt was right” or “It was painful but I didn’t do what I needed to do to be worthy” or “I was in extreme pain and anger because some man was telling me I couldn’t see my son get married because he was in an argument with me over a Boy Scout issue but I love you and that day was about you, not me.”

With tears running down my cheeks, I have to say, “I am sorry and I love you.  I’m taking actions now to try and help people know they have choices and the painful cycle of rejection, elitism and arrogance doesn’t have to continue.  It can be stopped.  I’m doing my part.”

The worst part… Our story is not unique.  Not having your loved ones see you get married is an accepted part of the Mormon culture.  You are preached sacrifice for God and this is just one of the many.  What God would require this sacrifice?  In fact, there is a movement called Family First Weddings.  They are Mormons who have been hurt by this exclusionary practice.  They are collecting stories like mine and sending them to the LDS Church Headquarters in Salt Lake City, asking them to “Inquire of The Lord is the one year wait on the temple sealing (wedding) can be changed for those who decide to get married civilly first.”  This will enable everyone, regardless of religious belief or “worthiness,” to participate in weddings.  Why can’t a couple get a civil marriage on Saturday, with all the bells and whistles, if they choose; then go to the Mormon Temple the next weekend and get “sealed” with all their LDS family and friends?Scan 133490064

Lastly, while this post was focused on the pain and hurt that occurred during our wedding, please understand we had a great time and loved it.  You see smiles and tears of joy in the pictures I’ve posted throughout this article.  I wanted everyone to see the dichotomy of our experience.  I married Bonnie, the person I love more than life itself and still feel that way 13 years later.  That night, I wrote her a song and sang it horribly, as she cried (probably from the pain I was causing her eardrums).  We danced.  It was probably the only time in my life I was actually graceful on a dance floor. (Let me believe I was graceful)  We Scan 133490058had so much fun with our friends and family.  We just wish we could have eaten more of the amazing cake my mom made!

We had so much fun, we want to do it again.  This Time, We’ll Do It Right!  On our 15th anniversary, we will be renewing our vows.  We’ll have it in a venue where EVERYONE can attend and the party will be, as Barney Stinson says, “Legen……. Dary!  LEGENDARY!”

I love you Bonnie!  Here’s a montage of pictures showing the progress of our little family over the past 13 years.  Can’t wait for 2015 Baby!