How can a church that professes devotion to the family be so cavalier about cleaving them in two?
A marriage ceremony and a sealing are two different things. “According to the customs of all civilized nations,” reads section 101 of the 1835 edition of the Doctrine & Covenants, “marriage is regulated by laws and ceremonies: therefore we believe that all marriages in this church of Christ of Latter Day Saints, should be solemnized in a public meeting, or feast, prepared for that purpose. . . not even prohibiting those persons who are desirous to get married, of being married by other authority.”
Brigham Young later removed this passage. A combined wedding and sealing, apparently, had certain operational advantages when it came to keeping early polygamous marriages a secret.
There are countries where marriages must be public. In these countries, sealings stand on their own, as all religious ceremonies should. Couples are married, in public, surrounded by family and friends, and then sealed in a separate religious ceremony.
Here in the United States, we tell ourselves that,
“combining a wedding and a sealing make it more special” [because combining civil acts with religious ceremonies is a great way to highlight the importance of the latter]
“everyone can get a temple recommend, it’s just personal choices that stop them” [because surrendering one's personal convictions and religious beliefs in order to accept Mormonism is a sacrifice that every good father or mother should be asked to make in order to see their son or daughter get married]
“it’s what God wants” [even though an early statement from church leaders states the opposite, and current policy can't be traced to any revelatory claim].
And so parents (and grandparents, and siblings, and friends) sit patiently in temple waiting rooms (and the pain, stacked end to end, disappears into the horizon).
There is an alternative. As it states in the 1960 Handbook of Instruction, “Where couples deliberately refuse temple marriage for reasons of their own, and afterward desire a sealing, they should be asked to wait for at least a year in which to demonstrate their sincerity and worthiness to receive this blessing.”
The price for being married in “a public meeting, or feast” (as Joseph Smith stated should be the case), with parents, friends, and family, is a one year waiting period (and the raised eyebrows and whispered questions about “worthiness” that go along with it).
It doesn’t always happen this way. Ann, for example, was married on March 21, 1969, in her Bloomfield Hills home, with a large reception afterward at the Bloomfield Hills Country Club. Her civil ceremony was presided over by a regional representative of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Her non-member parents were there, of course, along with 300 other guests. She flew to Salt Lake the next day to be sealed in the Salt Lake temple.
Why the special treatment, you might ask? Ann Lois Davies was being married to Willard Mitt Romney, son of George W. Romney, the former Governor of Michigan, church leader, and presidential candidate. Ann’s parents, members or not, couldn’t be shunted off to a temple waiting room while their daughter was married.
What kind of message would that send?
[See Go Ahead And Skip That Temple Wedding, from the Pure Mormonism blog, and Exploring LDS Temple Wedding Exclusion and Inclusion, a Mormon Stories podcast. Thanks to Jean Bodie for a timely and helpful response to a request for information.]