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Sealing is an ordinance (ritual) performed in Latter Day Saints temples by a person holding the sealing authority. The purpose of this ordinance is to seal familial relationships, making possible the existence of family relationships throughout eternity. LDS teachings place great importance on the specific authority required to perform these sealings. Church doctrine teaches that this authority, called the Priesthood, corresponds to that given to Saint Peter in .
Sealings are typically performed as marriages or as sealing of children to parents. They were performed prior to the death of Joseph Smith, Jr. (the main founder of the Latter Day Saint movement), and are currently performed in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Although some other denominations, such as the Community of Christ, view sealing as an artifact of Smith's practice of plural marriage, some do still perform them.
Faithful Latter Day Saints believe civil marriages are dissolved at death if they are not later solemnized with a sealing, but that a couple who has been sealed in a temple will be married beyond physical death and the Resurrection if they remain righteous. This means that in the afterlife they and their family will be together forever. An illustrative difference in the marriage ceremony performed in LDS temples is the replacement of the words "until death do us part" with "for time and all eternity".
The LDS Church recognizes other monogamous, heterosexual marriages, both civil and religious, although they believe that such marriages will not continue after death because "Eternal Marriages" must be performed by Priesthood authority. However, "Eternal Marriages" are also performed vicariously for the deceased so that once all the prior temple ordinances are completed for a deceased individual, couples who were not sealed during their life may accept the proxy sealing to each other and their children.
Couples who have children born to them before the couple is sealed, may have their children sealed to them after the couple is sealed. Couples who have children after being sealed do not have to have their children sealed to them in a separate ceremony. Children born to sealed parents are "born in the covenant" and are automatically sealed to their parents. Adopted children may be sealed to their adoptive parents once the adoption has been legally finalized.
Although a divorce legally dissolves a civilly-recognized marriage, the church still recognizes a sealed couple as being sealed. A couple who has been sealed may request to have their sealing "canceled", but this is uncommon, occurs only under special circumstances and is only granted by the President of the Church. Some refer informally to a "cancellation" as a "temple divorce", but the terminology designated by church leaders is "cancellation of a sealing". If a sealing is canceled, the sealing between them and any children remains in force, though the couple is no longer sealed, as the sealing together of husband and wife and the sealing of parents to children are separate ordinances.
A cancellation typically follows after a civil divorce when a woman seeks to be sealed to another man. The church's requirements for divorced men are equally strict, and even sometimes more so. A man must apply for a sealing clearance if he seeks to marry another woman after he has been civilly divorced. He is still required to receive a sealing clearance, even if he has already received a cancellation of sealing.
It has been argued that the LDS Church's policy on sealings and cancellations reflect its doctrine of plural marriage. Although the doctrine of plural marriage is currently prohibited from being practiced in the church, a man can be sealed to multiple women. A widower may be sealed while he is alive to his subsequent wives. Additionally, men who are dead may be sealed by proxy to all of the women to whom they were legally married while alive. Recent changes in church policy also allow women to be sealed to multiple men, but only after both she and her husband(s) are dead.
Church doctrine is not entirely specific on the status of men or women who are sealed by proxy to multiple spouses. There are at least two possibilities:
- Regardless of how many people a man or woman is sealed to by proxy, they will only remain with one of them in the afterlife, and that the remaining spouses, who might still merit the full benefits of exaltation that come from being sealed, would then be given to another person in order to ensure each has an eternal marriage.
- These sealings create effective plural marriages that will continue after death. There are no church teachings clarifying whether polyandrous relationships can exist in the afterlife, so some church members doubt whether this possibility would apply to women who are sealed by proxy to multiple spouses. The possibility for women to be sealed to multiple men is a recent policy change enacted in 1998. Church leaders have neither explained this change, nor its doctrinal implications. It should be noted, however, that proxy sealings, like proxy baptisms, are merely offered to the person in the afterlife, indicating that the purpose is to allow the woman to choose the right man to be sealed to, as LDS doctrine forbids polyandry.
The union of a sealed couple is regarded as valid only if both individuals have kept their religious commitments and followed LDS teachings. Just as deceased individuals may refuse any temple ordinance (such as a sealing) done by proxy on their behalf, couples, parents and children who were sealed to each other during their own life may exercise their agency to refuse to accept a sealing of which they were a part. No one will be sealed to any one with whom they do not want to be sealed.
Only worthy members of the LDS Church, who hold current valid temple recommends, can attend and witness sealings. Non-member family and friends generally wait in the temple waiting room during the sealing ceremony.
Since the LDS Church rejects same-sex marriages, these unions are not performed in temples nor are they recognized by the LDS Church.
Recognition of sealing
Not all countries recognize marriages that are performed by non-government representatives or by clergy outside of the state religion. In these cases, temple marriages are not seen as legally binding, and a civil marriage officiated by a government representative must be performed for the marriage to be recognized. In other cases, marriages must be performed in a public forum for any to witness or to formally object in a ceremony (in most cases, this is strictly a historical law). In this case, government representatives or authorized clergy will perform the civilly-recognized public wedding, prior to a temple sealing. In many cases, those who wish to be married in a religious ceremony in these countries would be civilly married by a government representative first and afterward go to their clergy to have a religious ceremony performed.
- In the United States and some other countries, bishops and temple sealers have the civil authority to perform marriages. In these cases, marriages performed in the temple by a duly authorized temple sealer are recognized by the government.
- In Argentina, all marriages are performed at the local municipality by a registrar who is duly authorized to perform marriages. In these cases, the couple will then go directly to the temple to have the sealing ordinance performed.
- In Brazil, all marriages must be performed in the state in which the couple resides. Since not all Brazilian states have a temple within their boundaries, the couple may then have their sealing performed at the nearest temple upon completion of the civil marriage.
- In the United Kingdom the law requires that a marriage be performed at a public ceremony (the same also holds true for Austria). Since attendance at a temple sealing is restricted, a couple will be married locally by a person who is duly authorized to perform marriages. This person will usually be a registrar of marriages. The marriage can be performed at the local registrar's office, or in some cases at an LDS chapel. Some bishops or branch presidents have been officially given the title of a deputy registrar, and as such are legally able to perform a civil ceremony in the chapel. The couple will then travel to the nearest LDS temple (London or Preston) for their temple marriage.
- Bergera, Gary James (2002), "The Earliest Eternal Sealings for Civilly Married Couples Living and Dead", Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 35 (3): 41–66.
- Buerger, David John (1983), "The Fulness of the Priesthood": The Second Anointing in Latter-day Saint Theology and Practice", Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 16 (1)
- The Family: A Proclamation To The World (Formal statement on marriage from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints)