A few Sundays ago, a friend of mine in my Orem Utah ward gave an excellent sacrament talk. There was a part that was of special interest to me, and I quote here from the document version of the talk she later sent to me:

[My husband] Gordon’s great grandmother is Sarah Franks – the Sarah Franks who was featured in the 17 Miracles movie. Perhaps some of you remember that Sarah and her fiancé, George Padley, had joined the Church in England, fell in love and wanted to wait to be married when they reached Zion in the S L valley. They fatefully joined the Martin Handcart Company and began their trek. George was young and strong and gave much of his allotted food to his ill Sarah. He helped the women and children cross the Platte River and helped with the crossings of the meandering Sweetwater River, all six times! He was very ill before he helped the rescuers on that last crossing of the Sweetwater River, and he died just a few days after reaching Martin’s Cove.

So strong was the love of this young couple that Sarah couldn’t bear to have his body put out on the edge of Martin’s Cove where the wolves could grab and run off with it as they did with all the other bodies. She begged the men to find a tree to put him in so the wolves couldn’t reach him. There were not many trees in that part of Wyoming, but, somehow the exhausted men of the company found a tree. Before they took his body, Sarah lovingly wrapped George in her blue shawl, as the family story goes. (I hope, someday, to ask Sarah about that decision! What WAS she thinking???)

Sarah continued the journey, arrived in the Salt Lake valley and several years later became the 3rd wife of Thomas Sloan Mackay, bearing 9 children.

Now, the rest of the story: In 1990 the “Second Rescue” was undertaken. Pres. Robert Lorimer, the then Stake President of the Riverton Wyoming stake the boundaries of which included the land that is now the historic site of Martin’s Cove, was prompted by the Spirit repeatedly to ask if all the temple work had ever been completed for all the members of the Willie –Martin Handcart Company who had died before they reached the S. L. valley. A search was made and it was discovered that none of the temple ordinances had been performed for any of the members of the two handcart companies who had died along the way. Under the direction of President James E. Faust, counselor to President Gordon B. Hinckley, what came to be called the Second Rescue was undertaken.

This Second Rescue effort to research the birth, death and family information for the hundreds who had died along the way and to get their temple ordinances completed became the assignment of the Riverton Wyoming Stake. Almost all stake members were involved, many who were less active and all of the youth. Many computers were available 24/7. It took about two years to complete this Second Rescue.

But, there is more to Sarah and George’s story. During the research, checking journals and letters, their story came to light. When President Faust heard about their sweet love story, and how it ended, he was moved to tears, saying it was one of the saddest love stories he had ever heard. He felt strongly that Sarah should have a choice on that great Millennial Day when we will be called forth and spouses will be joined together. However, at the time, in the 1990’s, the policy was that a woman could only be sealed to one man. Pres. Faust returned to Salt Lake after hearing of their story and met with the then Temple Sealing Committee and asked that the policy be given new consideration so women, like Sarah, might have a choice. After appropriately consulting with the Lord, the decision was made that after death a woman may be sealed to more than one man with the thought that then all parties would have the greatest agency, the greatest degree of choice.

This was a major change, then, and today is common practice. In fact, the Family History Department encourages us to seal all marriages of our deceased family members for this very reason. So, in their own way, Sarah and George are pioneers in this quest we are all charged with, the quest of completing our Family History and making certain, just as Riverton Stake did so many years ago, that all the ordinances are completed for every one of our ancestors.

I found this account fascinating. President Faust asked for maximum agency for Sarah and George concerning to whom they would be sealed in the hereafter, and the Temple Sealing Committee agreed. That seems to establish a principle, and yet . . .

Only dead women may be sealed to more than one man. A living woman cannot. If a woman has been married in the temple, then the only way to be sealed to another man in this life is if a) she is legally divorced, b) is about to be remarried in the temple, and c) requests a sealing cancellation in time for it to be processed before the date of remarriage in the temple (she must have the cancellation in hand to be remarried in the temple for time and all eternity). If a divorcee goes on to have children with her second husband before a sealing cancellation has taken place (for example, if she marries the man civilly first), those children are sealed under the covenant to the first husband from whom she is divorced. And no, the children’s sealing will not be subsequently transferred to the rightful father (at least in this life) if this happens.

This happened in our ward. A young woman, married briefly in the temple to an abusive spouse, was remarried civilly. She became pregnant by her second husband. She did not know that her child would be sealed to her first husband, and so took no action. When someone through the inspiration of the Spirit asked the young woman’s mother whether she understood what would happen in terms of the child’s sealing, the family was horrified. The baby was due in a little over six weeks! The young woman’s second husband became physically sick at the thought of his child being sealed to his wife’s abuser. The family mobilized every resource at its disposal and rushed through the sealing cancellation—which is a fairly laborious process necessitating consent from the previous husband. The cancellation had to come through before the birth, meaning the couple had also to set a date for temple marriage. While the story has a happy ending—the cancellation came through before the birth!—it was a deeply traumatic experience. The details of sealing practice and how these differ from men to women seem not very widely known among Church membership if a 4th generation family in the Church did not know this would happen.

The acting principle seems to be that in cases of divorce, the sealing is the most important thing, and to whom the sealing is made is not as important. In other words, if by not cancelling the spousal sealing a child who would not otherwise be born under the covenant can be born under the covenant, that overrides other considerations—such as how the woman and her second husband would feel about their children being born under the covenant to the wife’s ex-husband. The child deserves the maximum blessings possible. Likewise, the principle seems to be that if a wife who is divorced by a husband is worthy to be a “sealed woman,” then it would only be fair to allow her to remain a sealed woman, despite the fact that her husband has spurned her. The sealing and its blessings are what are important, and in the hereafter she can "transfer" her sealing to another man she prefers to be married to. And, of course, after the divorcee and her husbands are all dead, she may be formally sealed to all her husbands.[1]

If a woman is widowed rather than divorced, things are also complicated but in a somewhat different way. She cannot request a sealing cancellation if she was not divorced from her first husband. If she remarries after being widowed, it can only be for time, in a “time only” ceremony in the temple.[2] Any children born to her and her second husband will be born under the covenant between her and her first husband. This certainly gives pause to any would-be suitors of previously-sealed LDS widows, especially if they are of childbearing age!

Again, once the widow and all the husbands are dead, she can be sealed to all of them. For widows, then, in contrast to divorcees, both the sealing and to whom one is sealed are viewed as equally important--at least in this life.

And it should be noted that single mothers (either never-married or divorcees who have not previously been sealed) cannot be sealed to their children in this life unless they are subsequently married in the temple, because both a male and a female parent are required for such a sealing to occur. Not only that, the new husband would have to either legally adopt the children, or have the biological father of the children write a formal statement to the LDS Church that he approves the sealing to the new husband. In cases where adoption does not occur and the biological father does not consent to write a statement or cannot be found, the children have to wait until they are 18 and then can choose for themselves whether to be sealed to the sealed couple.

There is a great contrast to be seen, then, between the situation of women and the situation of men concerning sealing. Apart from the new-husband-of-a-previously-sealed-widow scenario in the paragraph above, a living man may be sealed to more than one woman without any problem. He may remain sealed to a dead wife/wives and a divorced wife/wives and any current wife. Any children born to these women to whom he is sealed (after he is sealed to them) are born under the covenant and thus sealed to him automatically—even if they are the children of a divorced spouse who has either not remarried or who has remarried civilly and thus have no legal or biological connection to him whatsoever.

In other words, while dead women have the same agency as men (dead or alive) in sealing practice, a living woman does not have the same agency as either dead women or as men. Furthermore, the agency of a living divorcee and a living widow differ substantially, as well.

We are interested in the thoughts of our readers. In the poll link below, please tell us:

  1. Did you know all these particulars about the current sealing practice of the Church?

  2. What are your feelings about the current sealing practice of the Church, particularly with its discrepancy between the agency of living women and dead women/living men, and between living widows and living divorcees?
  • The poll is anonymous, and we invite answers from both LDS men and LDS women; the poll will remain open until the Fall issue is published in November 2016. LINK TO THE POLL.

  • NOTES:

    [1] I do not believe the children are allowed to seal themselves a second time to their deceased mother and deceased biological father. Happy to be corrected if wrong—please do write us if you know. [Back to manuscript].

    [2] It is interesting to note that President Howard W. Hunter’s second wife, though a divorcee previously sealed to another man, was sealed to President Hunter for time and all eternity when they married. [Back to manuscript].

    Full Citation for this Article: Editorial Board (2016) "Readers’ Puzzle for Summer 2016: The Discrepancy in Sealing Practices Between Men and Women" SquareTwo, Vol. 9 No. 2 (Summer 2016), http://squaretwo.org/Sq2ReadersPuzzleSealingPractices.html, accessed <give access date>.

    Would you like to comment on this article? Thoughtful, faithful comments of at least 100 words are welcome. Please submit to SquareTwo.

    COMMENTS: 3 Comments

    I. B. Kent Harrison

    This whole question of sealing is thought provoking. I wonder about a man who marries an already sealed woman (I performed such a ceremony once.) What happens to him? His children with her are sealed to the other husband. Is he left out in the cold? Is there some sort of communal family? Ultimately, one falls back on the promise that God is good and He loves us and will arrange for us to be happy, whether there are multiple wives or multiple husbands, or maybe even (gasp!) group arrangements.


    II. Anonymous

    While I prefer to remain anonymous, it is not out of embarrassment or shame. It is rather out of a desire for privacy. I am divorced from an exceedingly emotionally and verbally abusive man who has alienated my sons from me by creating an atmosphere of unrighteous dominion (practiced in their marriages as well) and lying about me and my worthiness as a wife and mother. The thought of our children’s sealing has never troubled me because he has cancelled the sealing by his behavior. Our children are sealed neither to us, nor to him (much less him and his wife) regardless of what he (or they collectively) think. I know I can be sealed to them in the hereafter, which is the only place I plan on finding a suitable husband and father for our family.

    The Lord has responded in the past to the righteous petitions of his children on sensitive matters. What President Faust did is surely capable of being done again, so that women may choose after death to whom they wish to be sealed. However, unless the Lord approves of polyandry (not so), one of two righteous men will be deprived in the eternities of sealing to their children. A sadness most could not bear. Perhaps by then, there will be a holiness of heart that allows sacrifice for the best welfare of the children. If so, there seems to be shortfall for both genders. There are so many things that need to waited upon for resolution in the eternities. How sweet it would be if this were not one of them.

    Thanks for doing this!


    III. Thomas J. O'Neill

    It appears to me (and I’m more than happy to be set straight) but much of the consternation on the issue of children who continue to be sealed to a divorced couple - including children sealed to their mother’s prior husband - is based upon a misunderstanding of the purpose behind the parent/child sealing, as opposed to the husband/wife sealing.

    I believe that the purpose of the parent/child sealing is to establish an heirship link in each individual back to Adam, who was made Lord over the whole earth; as the earth will become the Celestial Kingdom, each inhabitant thereof must have a claim upon it - the sealing of child to parents, through sufficient generations and across dispensations - establishes a link from each person to Adam. Moreover, the fundamental eternal family unit consists of two (?) people: the husband and wife. If we consider children to be part of the family unit, then were are those lines drawn? Will I live in my parents’ eternal family, or will my children live within mine? I tend to think that - just as in the pre-mortal life - the my relationship with my earthly parents and children will be that of brothers and sisters, not necessarily a series of nuclear families: after all, that’s what we have now in our fallen state. A higher kingdom will be subject to higher laws. In that sense, it makes little difference to me whether my sealing to parents is made with my mother and father, or my mother and step-father.

    In addition, should my mother and step-father’s marriage sealing be cancelled, my sealing to parents remains in force. Why is that? Because its purpose is not to create an eternal relationship between those earthly parents, but to forge a link between me and Adam, to hold a claim to this earth as the Celestial Kingdom.