A Pay to Play Wedding

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!

34 Comments

    1. Thank you for sharing this story!!! We were very poor growing up, and my “parents” had a lot of financial problems. My dad was always sick and often out of work, and “Norma” always taught school. She would hand her paycheck over to Bruce and he wouldn’t get the bills paid. They went to the bishop one time and talked about their financial problems. The bishop told them to NOT pay their tithing, and get all caught up on bills, so they did that. Then, a relative was getting married in the SLC temple, and they wanted to go, so they went for their recommends. The bishop wouldn’t give them to them because they had NOT paid their tithing!!!! The is NOT Christian-like. It is just a PAYING-CULT!!!!! I SO believe that!!! The Mormon Church is the source of a lot of a lot of PTSD/trauma for me. Glad I left it, even though it took me until I was 50 to do it!!!
      Love, Susan

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  1. Great post. Thank you for sharing. My father was kept out of my wedding so I know in part how this feels. He is ashamed and embarassed that he wasn’t worthy enough to attend, and he continues to feel like he failed as a parent today. Makes me sick just thinking about it.

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  2. Wonderful post. How I would love to transplant the hurt this practice causes into the hearts of the decision makers at church headquarters. Maybe then they would change the policy. Thank you for being bold enough to put your story on a public blog and standing up for what is right.

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  3. We were in the same situation as you. My husband and I were married 10 1/2 years ago in the Las Vegas, NV Temple. I would never have considered marrying outside the temple, but I remember walking in to the sealing room and seeing only a small handful of people there. Both my husband and I were the oldest in our families to be married and go through the temple, so NONE of our siblings were there (even though only a few months later his sister was married in the Bountiful, UT Temple). Very few of my family members were actually members, and even if they were, they were not “worthy” to enter the temple. It was very sad for me. We did have a big reception, and I really wanted to do something that would include those who were not able to witness the sealing. I thought seriously of doing a ring exchange, since that is not part of a Mormon wedding, but I was highly discouraged from doing this by some of my husband’s family. They felt it would “take away from the sacredness of the temple experience.” Like a fool, I listened to them.

    Almost exactly 10 years after we were married, my husband’s younger brother was also married in the same temple, in the same room. But this time, when we walked in that room, it was packed with people. Standing room only. Why? Because they were both younger siblings that already had lots of family members able to attend the temple. And while I was happy that they were getting married, I was also fighting to keep back my own tears, and seeing the stark contrast. It just seemed so unfair. Why would so many loved ones be denied to attend such a happy occasion? My faith had been slowly crumbling for some time, but that was a pivotal moment for me. For the first time, I could really see how the church controls and manipulates it’s members. It just isn’t right.

    We have also decided to do a big vow renewal on our 15th Wedding Anniversary, which will be May 3, 2017. We are planning a big event in an amazing venue, and ALL our friends and family will be invited:-) I hope you guys have a wonderful even as well!

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  4. This is one of the reasons we left Utah after having lived there for 11 years. All 3 of our children were born there and one of my greatest fears was that they would fall in love and marry a Mormon. We weren’t. I realize that very thing can happen to them now that we’re not in Salt Lake. The odds were just higher there. I heard too many stories such as this during my time there. I attended many wedding RECEPTIONS, also. I could also see my children being excluded from other activities with their schoolmates so once we had the opportunity to leave…we did. Thank you for sharing your story.

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    1. I’ve never lived in Utah, as Texas is our home, but the culture is even exclusionary down here…. When you teach you are “The One and Only” the elitism and arrogance is almost unavoidable. It’s a real shame. Thanks for sharing your experience!

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  5. Such a sad thing that families can’t be together at a wedding. Especially when in other countries that don’t recognize temple marriages they let the couple have a civil ceremony the day before and then go get sealed. If they can do it outside the USA they should allow it here.

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  6. What I think is worse than a loved one or friend not being allowed to attend the wedding ceremony in a Mormon temple, is the fact that the couple getting married choose to get married there knowing that their parents, friends, whomever can’t attend. Shame on the couple getting married more than the Mormon church. If you pick up a venomous snake and it bites you, why blame the snake? It’s a snake. It’s doing what it does. Blame the person who knowingly picked it up. I think if everyone stopped getting married in the temple UNLESS their non-member friends and family can attend, the policy would change.

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    1. I did put part of the blame on us, as the post says; however, you obviously have no understanding of the Mormon culture, indoctrination that you are subject to from birth on and the extreme pressure to do what’s “right.” So while your comment is partially valid, you are severely mistaken.

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  7. I never understood the year wait. Never, ever, ever, ever. Especially when you consider that in places like the UK where temple marriages aren’t considered legal, couples have a ceremony in a church and then get sealed after. Why can’t it be like this in the US? It would save so much pain and frustration.

    A few months ago I mentioned wanting to elope with my partner and my brother (an active member) was shocked. “None of us will be there to see it though!”. I coolly replied that I won’t be able to go to his wedding; just like I wasn’t allowed to go to my sister’s or any of our other family member’s so why should they get to come to mine? Mormons don’t seem to like it when the shoe is on the other foot!!

    Personally, I’ve never thought that the LDS culture really cared about families for all the talk about how much a family is SUPER IMPORTANT TO EVERYTHING EVER. It’s not. Your family only matters as long as it consists of people who are giving over money and power to the people at the top.

    Lastly, I’m curious – why did the leadership care when your brother got his Eagle? I would think they’d be happy that he got it so young . . .

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  8. “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.”

    I thought it was strange that I was allowed to be sealed to my parents in person in the temple when I was 14 years old, but when I was 15 and my older sister got married I wasn’t allowed to attend their sealing (thought I somehow, I don’t know how my parents managed it, was allowed to go and participate when she was sealed to my parents directly afterwords.)

    I too have regrets about my wedding… namely that my mom wasn’t there, because she couldn’t bring herself to lie and admitted that she did not believe that JS was a prophet… the cost of honesty. 😦

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    1. April, when I was 5, we adopted my older brother and he was sealed to us. I and my siblings were permitted to be a part of that sealing. Yet, just like you, denied access when my older siblings got married. I will agree, it does not make sense!

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  9. I’m angry because I’m not hearing anything in there about you being being young when all of this took place. The Church manufactures guilt, and it infuriates me that people still feel it when they recognize mistakes and right those wrongs. You must give yourselves a break. I, too, believe in apologies. You’ve done that. Beyond that, responsibility for this common crime against good people lies with the Church, misguided leadership, and the sanction of same. Indoctrination is easy when you start from birth. No one can analyze with the the mind of an adult until he or she is an adult. You were young adults. There’s a difference. The limbic system doesn’t even finish forming until we’re in our twenties! Be gentle with yourselves and let guilt/sorrow go. I’ll be honest, I don’t think you did anything wrong. We are not taught, in that cultural/religious monolith, to weigh options and choose for ourselves. How could you, then, at that young age? You are given one truth, and if you deviate, there is something wrong with you, most likely that you simply aren’t worthy. Well, that’s just nonsense. 🙂 CONGRATULATIONS, both of you, on the finding the love of your life! Enjoy your wedding in two years!!! Best, crh

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    1. Thank you for your support crh! Writing this post was definitely part of our healing process. We’ve discussed this in great detail with every person that was “left out” and they were all incredibly gracious and understanding, as they were when it happened. I feel so much better after putting this out for people to read, empathize and I feel like I’m part of the solution instead of the problem now! You words are encouraging and I really appreciate it!

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  10. Excellent post. My wife and I were married nearly 18 years ago in the Salt Lake temple. Among those waiting outside were all of my siblings because they were all under 18 and my maternal grandmother, who I’d been very close to since I was little. I will most likely wait outside myself someday when my son gets married. I actually don’t feel too bad about it. When he and my wife and others head into the temple, I’ll head out to the car, put my grandma’s picture on the dashboard, play some of her favorite music on the radio, pour some of her favorite coffee (Folgers with some half-and-half), and finally be able to tell her I’m sorry and mean it.

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  11. Sad….sad…..sad, when people try to make a religious group look bad because they choose to live differently than it’s teachings.

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  12. Seriously. Have a civil wedding at the local reception hall. Then have a hippy wedding down by the river. Go to Vegas and do the drive through for the hell of it. Then go get married in the temple. Who cares? Who’s marriage is it anyway. Don’t get married for you and your wife. Get married for everyone else. It’s the United States of America. No one is holding a gun to your head.

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  13. I LOVE this post! I’ve read it a few times now since its been up 🙂 I’m one of the writers of Mormon Open Letter (mormonopenletter.com) and your blog is a PERFECT example of what people experience and what we’re trying to change. Would you consider reading the letter and, if you like it, writing a post on your thoughts?

    Let me know! you can contact me at melisa@mormonopenletter.com

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  14. Whoa. You seem to have a bad case of “my religion made me do it and now I’m really mad at it” syndrome. You either don’t understand your religion, or you don’t agree with it. In the former case, I suggest you try to study the reasons why those rules are in place. In the latter (not agreeing) then you obviously have a basis for separating yourself from the church. Why would you belong to a religion you believe is bringing you and your family down? If you do believe that it is right, then you need to take steps to understand your situation that happened over a decade ago and let some of that baggage go. 13 years later and you’re blogging about something that you willfully did with full knowledge your whole life? Dude, you knew about this stuff beforehand. You knew about tithing and expectations to go in the temple etc. So did your parents. If your parents were allowed in, would you still feel the same way? You have only yourself to blame and it’s obvious that you’re looking for an excuse to leave the church. You gotta get “Frozen” and let it go haha!

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  15. Thankyou for sharing. I am an active mormon, and i too agree that a wedding is a joyous occasion to be celebrated by all! Not just a select few who can cram in that tiny sealing room. It pains me to see that not all loved ones are allowed in the temple. My mother wasnt able to see me get married in the temple because of tithing issues. My best friend married a convert: all her family were non members. You can imagine the brave faces they put on to hide their heartbreak-especially at that demoralizing ‘ring ceremony’ such families usually have. Its madness! If I was to do it all over again, i would have a civil wedding so that all friends and family – especially those who do not have a recommend or are non-members, can witness this joyous event! Then myself and the mrs would get sealed in a quiet, intimate ceremony a year later. God bless you and your family. Thanks again!

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    1. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and experience. I could not agree more! There were rumors that the church was going to change the U.S. policy last year but that never happened… I hope it does soon.

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