I got married in the temple twelve years ago.  Almost all of my immediate family members and those of my wife were active members.  Some younger siblings and extended family were excluded from the wedding.  I didn’t think twice about it.  A temple wedding was the right way to do things, and people who were upset about not being able to attend just didn’t understand how important temple weddings were.  They could always attend the reception.  Not being particularly sentimental myself, I didn’t see the big deal.

Since my wedding, my wife and I, and some of my siblings, have left the Mormon church.  It has been devastating for my parents and emotionally hard on all of us.  But we have maintained our close relationship.

When my sister announced she was getting married, I was living with my wife and children in South America.  My sister had thought about delaying her wedding until the spring, when more family members, including us, were planning on visiting Utah.  But ultimately, she and her fiance decided to get married in December during school break.  I can understand her urgency, I don’t think I would have been able to wait myself.

My wife and I couldn’t afford to fly out our whole family, and even to fly me out would be a significant financial sacrifice.  When I learned that it was to be a temple wedding as expected, that made the decision more difficult.  Why was I supposed to sacrifice so much to support my sister, only to wait outside during the event I was being invited to?  I decided that since my sister didn’t value her family members’ presence highly enough to delay the wedding for when family was going to be there, I wasn’t going to make the sacrifice either.  We could send her a nice wedding gift.

On Christmas day, we talked with my parents by skype.  Hearing about the preparations for the wedding and connecting with family helped my wife and I reevaluate our decision.  My wife encouraged me to go and we would figure it out financially.  We decided it was important to support my sister, so we bought me a ticket.  It felt good to put family first and support my little sister.  I got to spend a lot of time with my family, and I was happy to help with all the preparations for the wedding reception, trying to turn a basketball gym into a reception hall.  My sister was grateful to have me there.

My sister got married in the Salt Lake temple.  In a family of eleven siblings, her wedding was attended by only two brothers and her parents.  Mission companions, ward members, and college roommates witnessed a ceremony that siblings, aunts, uncles, and cousins were “unworthy” to attend.

At the after-wedding lunch, my Dad commented that weddings are about joining together two different families.  I thought, then why does the church make that so hard for part-member families?  The Mormon glorification of families seems to only apply when everyone is an active, believing Mormon.

When I first heard my sister was getting married, I imagined her deciding to hold a civil marriage ceremony that everyone could attend and celebrate, and then waiting a year to get sealed.  But it was unfair of me to expect that kind of decision from her.  There is so much cultural and religious pressure to get married in the temple.  It seems to be the focus of everything in the youth program.  It signifies a successful arrival into Mormon adulthood.  To choose to go against that pressure, to face the stigma and rumors of a secular wedding, that would require a truly unique, mature individual.  And I don’t blame my sister for not choosing that.  That option probably never even occurred to her, it certainly didn’t occur to me.

I excluded my sister from my wedding because she was too young to attend the sealing.  And she excluded me.  I have to forgive my sister, and I have to forgive myself.  We were doing what we thought was God’s will.  And we didn’t see the hurt that we caused.

-Joel