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The divine institution of marriage

IntroductionThe California Supreme Court recently ruled that same-sex marriage was

legal in California. Recognizing the importance of marriage to society,

the Church accepted an invitation to participate in ProtectMarriage, a

coalition of churches, organizations, and individuals sponsoring a

November ballot measure, Proposition 8, that would amend the California

state constitution to ensure that only a marriage between a man and a

woman would be legally recognized. (Information about the coalition can

be found at June 20, 2008, the First Presidency of the Church distributed a

letter about "Preserving Traditional Marriage and Strengthening

Families," announcing the Church's participation with the coalition.

The letter, which was read in Latter-day Saints' church services in

California, asked that Church members "do all [they] can to support the

proposed constitutional amendment."Members of the

Church in Arizona and Florida will also be voting on constitutional

amendments regarding marriage in their states, where coalitions similar

to California's are now being formed.

The focus of

the Church's involvement is specifically same-sex marriage and its

consequences. The Church does not object to rights (already established

in California) regarding hospitalization and medical care, fair housing

and employment rights, or probate rights, so long as these do not

infringe on the integrity of the family or the constitutional rights of

churches and their adherents to administer and practice their religion

free from government interference.The Church has

a single, undeviating standard of sexual morality: intimate relations

are proper only between a husband and a wife united in the bonds of

matrimony. The Churchs opposition to same-sex marriage neither

constitutes nor condones any kind of hostility towards homosexual men

and women. Protecting marriage between a man and a woman does not

affect Church members' Christian obligations of love, kindness and

humanity toward all people.As Church

members decide their own appropriate level of involvement in protecting

marriage between a man and a woman, they should approach this issue

with respect for others, understanding, honesty, and civility.Intending to

reduce misunderstanding and ill will, the Church has produced the

following document, "The Divine Institution of Marriage," and provided

the accompanying links to other materials, to explain its reasons for

defending marriage between a man and a woman as an issue of moral

imperative.The Divine Institution of MarriageMarriage is sacred, ordained of God from before the foundation of the

world. After creating Adam and Eve, the Lord God pronounced them

husband and wife, of which Adam said, "Therefore shall a man leave his

father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall

be one flesh."[1] Jesus Christ cited Adam's declaration when he affirmed the divine

origins of the marriage covenant: "Have ye not read, that he which made

them at the beginning made them male and female, and said, For this

cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his

wife: and they twain shall be one flesh? Wherefore they are no more

twain, but one flesh."[2]In 1995, "The Family: A Proclamation to the World" declared the following unchanging truths regarding marriage:We, the First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve Apostles of The

Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, solemnly proclaim that

marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God and that the

family is central to the Creator's plan for the eternal destiny of His

children ... The family is ordained of God. Marriage between man and

woman is essential to His eternal plan. Children are entitled to birth

within the bonds of matrimony, and to be reared by a father and a

mother who honor marital vows with complete fidelity.The

Proclamation also teaches, "Gender is an essential characteristic of

individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose." The

account in Genesis of Adam and Eve being created and placed on earth

emphasizes the creation of two distinct genders: "So God created man in

his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female

created he them."[3]Marriage between a man and a woman is central to the plan of salvation.

The sacred nature of marriage is closely linked to the power of

procreation. Only a man and a woman together have the natural

biological capacity to conceive children. This power of procreation —

to create life and bring God's spirit children into the world — is

sacred and precious. Misuse of this power undermines the institution of

the family and thereby weakens the social fabric.[4]

Strong families serve as the fundamental institution for transmitting

to future generations the moral strengths, traditions, and values that

sustain civilization. As the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

affirms, "The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of

society."[5]Marriage is not primarily a contract between individuals to ratify

their affections and provide for mutual obligations. Rather, marriage

and family are vital instruments for rearing children and teaching them

to become responsible adults. While governments did not invent

marriage, throughout the ages governments of all types have recognized

and affirmed marriage as an essential institution in preserving social

stability and perpetuating life itself. Hence, regardless of whether

marriages were performed as a religious rite or a civil ceremony,

married couples in almost every culture have been granted special

privileges aimed primarily at sustaining their relationship and

promoting the environment in which children are reared. A husband and a

wife do not receive these privileges to elevate them above any other

two people who may share a residence or social tie, but rather in order

to preserve, protect, and defend the all-important institutions of

marriage and family.

It is true that

some couples who marry will not have children, either by choice or

because of infertility, but the special status of marriage is

nonetheless closely linked to the inherent powers and responsibilities

of procreation, and to the inherent differences between the genders.

Co-habitation under any guise or title is not a sufficient reason for

defining new forms of marriage.High rates of

divorce and out-of-wedlock births have resulted in an exceptionally

large number of single parents in American society. Many of these

single parents have raised exemplary children; nevertheless, extensive

studies have shown that in general a husband and wife united in a

loving, committed marriage provide the optimal environment for children

to be protected, nurtured, and raised.[6]

This is not only because of the substantial personal resources that two

parents can bring to bear on raising a child, but because of the

differing strengths that a father and a mother, by virtue of their

gender, bring to the task. As the prominent sociologist David Popenoe

has said: The burden of social science evidence supports the idea that gender

differentiated parenting is important for human development and that

the contribution of fathers to childrearing is unique and irreplaceable.[7]Popenoe explained that:... The complementarity of male and female parenting styles is

striking and of enormous importance to a child's overall development.

It is sometimes said that fathers express more concern for the child's

longer-term development, while mothers focus on the child's immediate

well-being (which, of course, in its own way has everything to do with

a child's long-term well-being). What is clear is that children have

dual needs that must be met: one for independence and the other for

relatedness, one for challenge and the other for support.[8]Social historian David Blankenhorn makes a similar argument in his book Fatherless America.[9] In an ideal society, every child would be raised by both a father and a mother.Challenges to Marriage and FamilyOur modern era has seen traditional marriage and family — defined as a

husband and wife with children in an intact marriage — come

increasingly under assault. Sexual morality has declined and infidelity

has increased. Since 1960, the proportion of children born out of

wedlock has soared from 5.3 percent to 38.5 percent (2006).[10]

Divorce has become much more common and accepted, with the United

States having one of the highest divorce rates in the world. Since

1973, abortion has taken the lives of over 45 million innocents.[11]

At the same time, entertainment standards continue to plummet, and

pornography has become a scourge afflicting and addicting many victims.

Gender differences increasingly are dismissed as trivial, irrelevant,

or transient, thus undermining God's purpose in creating both men and

women.In recent years

in the United States and other countries, a movement has emerged to

promote same-sex marriage as an inherent or constitutional right. This

is not a small step, but a radical change: instead of society

tolerating or accepting private, consensual sexual behavior between

adults, advocates of same-sex marriage seek its official endorsement

and recognition.Court decisions

in Massachusetts (2004) and California (2008) have allowed same-sex

marriages. This trend constitutes a serious threat to marriage and

family. The institution of marriage will be weakened, resulting in

negative consequences for both adults and children.In November

2008, California voters will decide whether to amend their state

constitution to define marriage as only between a man and a woman. The

Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has joined in a broad

coalition of other denominations, organizations, and individuals to

encourage voter approval of this amendment.The people of

the United States — acting either directly or through their elected

representatives — have recognized the crucial role that traditional

marriage has played and must continue to play in American society if

children and families are to be protected and moral values propagated.Forty-four

states have passed legislation making clear that marriage is between a

man and a woman. More than half of those states, twenty-seven in all,

have done so by constitutional amendments like the ones pending in

California, Arizona, and Florida.[12]In contrast, those who would impose same-sex marriage on American

society have chosen a different course. Advocates have taken their case

to the state courts, asking judges to remake the institution of

marriage that society has accepted and depended upon for millennia.

Yet, even in this context, a broad majority of courts — six out of

eight state supreme courts — have upheld traditional marriage laws.

Only two, Massachusetts and now California, have gone in the other

direction, and then, only by the slimmest of margins — 4 to 3 in both

cases.In sum, there

is very strong agreement across America on what marriage is. As the

people of California themselves recognized when they voted on this

issue just eight years ago, traditional marriage is essential to

society as a whole, and especially to its children. Because this

question strikes at the very heart of the family, because it is one of

the great moral issues of our time, and because it has the potential

for great impact upon the family, the Church is speaking out on this

issue, and asking members to get involved.Tolerance, Same-Sex Marriage and Religious FreedomThose who favor homosexual marriage contend that "tolerance" demands

that they be given the same right to marry as heterosexual couples. But

this appeal for "tolerance" advocates a very different meaning and

outcome than that word has meant throughout most of American history

and a different meaning than is found in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

The Savior taught a much higher concept, that of love. "Love thy

neighbor," He admonished.[13]

Jesus loved the sinner even while decrying the sin, as evidenced in the

case of the woman taken in adultery: treating her kindly, but exhorting

her to "sin no more."[14] Tolerance as a gospel principle means love and forgiveness of one another, not "tolerating" transgression.In today's secular world, the idea of tolerance has come to mean

something entirely different. Instead of love, it has come to mean condone — acceptance of wrongful behavior as the price of friendship. Jesus

taught that we love and care for one another without condoning

transgression. But today's politically palatable definition insists

that unless one accepts the sin he does not tolerate the sinner.As Elder Dallin H. Oaks has explained,Tolerance obviously requires a non-contentious manner of relating

toward one another's differences. But tolerance does not require

abandoning one's standards or one's opinions on political or public

policy choices. Tolerance is a way of reacting to diversity, not a

command to insulate it from examination.[15]

The Church does not condone abusive treatment of others and encourages

its members to treat all people with respect. However, speaking out

against practices with which the Church disagrees on moral grounds —

including same-sex marriage — does not constitute abuse or the

frequently misused term "hate speech." We can express genuine love and

friendship for the homosexual family member or friend without accepting

the practice of homosexuality or any re-definition of marriage.Legalizing

same-sex marriage will affect a wide spectrum of government activities

and policies. Once a state government declares that same-sex unions are

a civil right, those governments almost certainly will enforce a wide

variety of other policies intended to ensure that there is no

discrimination against same-sex couples. This may well place "church

and state on a collision course."[16]The prospect of same-sex marriage has already spawned legal collisions

with the rights of free speech and of action based on religious

beliefs. For example, advocates and government officials in certain

states already are challenging the long-held right of religious

adoption agencies to follow their religious beliefs and only place

children in homes with both a mother and a father. As a result,

Catholic Charities in Boston has stopped offering adoption

services.Other advocates

of same-sex marriage are suggesting that tax exemptions and benefits be

withdrawn from any religious organization that does not embrace

same-sex unions.[17]

Public accommodation laws are already being used as leverage in an

attempt to force religious organizations to allow marriage celebrations

or receptions in religious facilities that are otherwise open to the

public. Accrediting organizations in some instances are asserting

pressure on religious schools and universities to provide married

housing for same-sex couples. Student religious organizations are being

told by some universities that they may lose their campus recognition

and benefits if they exclude same-sex couples from club membership.[18]Many of these examples have already become the legal reality in several

nations of the European Union, and the European Parliament has

recommended that laws guaranteeing and protecting the rights of

same-sex couples be made uniform across the EU.[19]

Thus, if same-sex marriage becomes a recognized civil right, there will

be substantial conflicts with religious freedom. And in some important

areas, religious freedom may be diminished.How Would Same-Sex Marriage Affect Society?Possible restrictions on religious freedom are not the only societal

implications of legalizing same-sex marriage. Perhaps the most common

argument that proponents of same-sex marriage make is that it is

essentially harmless and will not affect the institution of traditional

heterosexual marriage in any way. "It wont affect you, so why should

you care?" is the common refrain. While it may be true that allowing

single-sex unions will not immediately and directly affect all existing

marriages, the real question is how it will affect society as a whole over time,

including the rising generation and future generations. The experience

of the few European countries that already have legalized same-sex

marriage suggests that any dilution of the traditional definition of

marriage will further erode the already weakened stability of marriages

and family generally. Adopting same-sex marriage compromises the

traditional concept of marriage, with harmful consequences for


Aside from the

very serious consequence of undermining and diluting the sacred nature

of marriage between a man and a woman, there are many practical

implications in the sphere of public policy that will be of deep

concern to parents and society as a whole. These are critical to

understanding the seriousness of the overall issue of same-sex

marriage.When a man and

a woman marry with the intention of forming a new family, their success

in that endeavor depends on their willingness to renounce the

single-minded pursuit of self-fulfillment and to sacrifice their time

and means to the nurturing and rearing of their children. Marriage is

fundamentally an unselfish act: legally protected because only a male

and female together can create new life, and because the rearing of

children requires a life-long commitment, which marriage is intended to

provide. Societal recognition of same-sex marriage cannot be justified

simply on the grounds that it provides self-fulfillment to its

partners, for it is not the purpose of government to provide legal

protection to every possible way in which individuals may pursue

fulfillment. By definition, all same-sex unions are infertile, and two

individuals of the same gender, whatever their affections, can never

form a marriage devoted to raising their own mutual offspring.It is true that

some same-sex couples will obtain guardianship over children — through

prior heterosexual relationships, through adoption in the states where

this is permitted, or by artificial insemination. Despite that, the

all-important question of public policy must be: what environment is

best for the child and for the rising generation? Traditional marriage

provides a solid and well-established social identity to children. It

increases the likelihood that they will be able to form a clear gender

identity, with sexuality closely linked to both love and procreation.

By contrast, the legalization of same-sex marriage likely will erode

the social identity, gender development, and moral character of

children. Is it really wise for society to pursue such a radical

experiment without taking into account its long-term consequences for

children?As just one

example of how children will be adversely affected, the establishment

of same-sex marriage as a civil right will inevitably require mandatory

changes in school curricula. When the state says that same-sex unions

are equivalent to heterosexual marriages, the curriculum of public

schools will have to support this claim. Beginning with elementary

school, children will be taught that marriage can be defined as a

relation between any two adults and that consensual sexual relations

are morally neutral. Classroom instruction on sex education in

secondary schools can be expected to equate homosexual intimacy with

heterosexual relations. These developments will create serious clashes

between the agenda of the secular school system and the right of

parents to teach their children traditional standards of morality.Finally,

throughout history the family has served as an essential bulwark of

individual liberty. The walls of a home provide a defense against

detrimental social influences and the sometimes overreaching powers of

government. In the absence of abuse or neglect, government does not

have the right to intervene in the rearing and moral education of

children in the home. Strong families are thus vital for political

freedom. But when governments presume to redefine the nature of

marriage, issuing regulations to ensure public acceptance of

non-traditional unions, they have moved a step closer to intervening in

the sacred sphere of domestic life. The consequences of crossing this

line are many and unpredictable, but likely would include an increase

in the power and reach of the state toward whatever ends it seeks to

pursue.The Sanctity of MarriageStrong, stable families, headed by a father and mother, are the anchor

of civilized society. When marriage is undermined by gender confusion

and by distortions of its God-given meaning, the rising generation of

children and youth will find it increasingly difficult to develop their

natural identity as a man or a woman. Some will find it more difficult

to engage in wholesome courtships, form stable marriages, and raise yet

another generation imbued with moral strength and purpose.The Church of

Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has chosen to become involved, along

with many other churches, organizations, and individuals, in defending

the sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman because it is a

compelling moral issue of profound importance to our religion and to

the future of our society.The final line

in the Proclamation on the Family is an admonition to the world from

the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve: "We call upon

responsible citizens and officers of government everywhere to promote

those measures designed to maintain and strengthen the family as the

fundamental unit of society." This is the course charted by Church

leaders, and it is the only course of safety for the Church and for the


[1] Genesis 2:24. [2] Matthew 19:4-6.

[3] Genesis 1:27.

[4] M. Russell Ballard, What Matters Most is What Lasts Longest, Ensign, November 2005, p. 41.

[5] United Nations, Universal Declaration of Human Rights, General

Assembly Resolution 217 A (III), 10 December 1948.

[6] David Blankenhorn, Fatherless America: Confronting Our Most Urgent Social Problem (New York: Basic Books, 1995); Barbara Schneider, Allison Atteberry, and Ann Owens, Family Matters: Family Structure and Child Outcomes

(Birmingham AL: Alabama Policy Institute: June 2005); David Popenoe,

Life Without Father (New York: Martin Kessler Books, 1996); David

Popenoe and Barbara Defoe Whitehead, The State of Our Unions 2007: The Social Health of Marriage in America

(Piscataway, NJ (Rutgers University): The National Marriage Project,

July 2007 ) pp. 21-25; and Maggie Gallagher and Joshua K. Baker, Do

Moms and Dads Matter? Evidence from the Social Sciences on Family

Structure and the Best Interests of the Child, Margins Law Journal 4:161 (2004).

[7] David Popenoe, Life Without Father (New York: The Free Press, 1996) p. 146.

[8] Ibid., p. 145. See also Spencer W. Kimball, The Role of Righteous Women, Ensign, November 1979, pp. 102-104.

[9] David Blankenhorn, Fatherless America, pp. 219-220.

[10] Stephanie J. Ventura and Christine A. Bachrach, Nonmarital Childbearing in the United States, 1940-99, National Vital Statistics Reports

48:16 (18 October 2000); and Brady E. Hamilton, Joyce A. Martin, and

Stephanie J. Ventura, Births: Preliminary Data for 2006, National Vital Statistics Reports 56:7 (5 December 2007).

[11] Alan Guttmacher Institute, Facts on Induced Abortion in the United States, In Brief, July 2008.


Christine Vestal, California Gay Marriage Ruling Sparks New Debate,, 16 May 2008, updated 12 June 2008. is

funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts.

[13] Matt. 19:19.

[14] John 8:11.

[15] Elder Dallin H. Oaks, Weightier Matters, BYU Devotional speech, 9 February 1999.

[16] Maggie Gallagher, Banned in Boston: The Coming Conflict Between Same-Sex Marriage and Religious Liberty, The Weekly Standard, 15 May 2006.


Jonathan Turley, An Unholy Union: Same-Sex Marriage and the Use of

Governmental Programs to Penalize Religious Groups with Unpopular

Practices, in Douglas Laycock, Jr., et al., eds., Same-Sex Marriage and Religious Liberty: Emerging Conflicts (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2008, forthcoming).


Marc D. Stern, Gay Marriage and the Churches, paper delivered at the

Scholars Conference on Same-Sex Marriage and Religious Liberty,

sponsored by the The Beckett Fund, 4 May 2006.

[19] European Parliament Resolution on homophobia in Europe, adopted 18 January 2006.

The commentary was posted on, and can be viewed here.