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Social Perspective on Marriage

by Thomas B. Holman

Marriage is more than a matter of social convention or individual need fulfillment in Latter-day Saint society and lifestyle; it is central to the exaltation of the individual person: "If a man marry a wife by my word, which is my law, and by the new and everlasting covenant, and it is sealed unto them by the Holy Spirit of promise, by him who is anointed, unto whom I have appointed this power and the keys of this priesthood, and…[they] abide in my covenant…[that marriage] shall be of full force when they are out of the world; …then shall they be gods, because they have no end; therefore shall they be from everlasting to everlasting" (D&C 132:19-20). Thus, Latter-day Saints consider it of utmost importance, "1. To marry the right person, in the right place, by the right authority; and 2. To keep the covenant made in connection with this holy and perfect order of matrimony" (MD, p. 118).

Central to LDS theology is the belief that men and women existed as spirit offspring of heavenly parents in a premortal life. Latter-day Saints view life on earth as a time to prepare to meet God (Alma 12:24) and strive toward becoming like him (Matt. 5:48; 3 Ne. 12:48). Becoming like God is dependent to a large extent on entering into "celestial marriage" for "time and all eternity," for eventually all exalted beings shall have entered into this highest patriarchal order of the priesthood. Latter-day Saints believe that the marital and family bond can continue in the post-earth life, and indeed is necessary for eternal life, or life in the Celestial Kingdom with God the Father; Mother in Heaven; Jesus Christ, and other glorified beings.

Given these doctrines, LDS marriages are distinct and different in several aspects from marriages in other denominations, and marriages of faithful Latter-day Saints differ from those of less observant Church members. Research on LDS marriages shows distinctions in four areas: sexual attitudes and behavior, marriage formation, divorce, and gender roles within the marriage.

SEXUAL ATTITUDES AND BEHAVIOR. Because of the importance of the marital bond and family relationships in both this life and the life to come, premarital or extramarital sexual relations are viewed as totally unacceptable. The power of procreation is vital to the entire Plan of Salvation. It is held sacred, to be used "only as the Lord has directed"; as such it is viewed as the "very key" to happiness (Packer, "Why Stay Morally Clean," Ensign [July 1972]:113). Studies conducted through the 1970s and 1980s consistently showed that Latter-day Saints have more restrictive attitudes about and are less likely to have participated in premarital sexual intercourse than members of other religious denominations. Active Latter-day Saints also have more conservative attitudes about and are less likely to have engaged in premarital sexual intercourse than those who are less active in the Church (see Sexuality).

A recent sampling of U.S. households showed Mormons to be significantly less approving of teenagers having sex or of premarital cohabitation than non-Mormons (Heaton et al., 1989). Another study, of over 2,000 adolescents in public high schools in the western United States, showed that 17 percent of the Latter-day Saints had had premarital intercourse, compared to 48 percent of the Catholics, 51 percent of those with no religious affiliation, and 67 percent of the Protestants (Heaton, 1988). The difference continues when Church activity is taken into account and active Latter-day Saints are compared to inactive ones. The attitudes and behavior of inactive Mormons are more similar to those of other faiths (religiously active or inactive) than to active Latter-day Saints (Heaton, 1988).

Latter-day Saint attitudes about sex in marriage and frequency of sexual intercourse in marriage are similar to those in other faiths. Although no data exist on the frequency of extramarital sexuality, Latter-day Saints in general are less approving of extramarital sex than other American populations (Heaton et al., 1989).

MARITAL FORMATION. Members of the Church in the United States and Canada are more likely to marry and remarry than Catholics, conservative Protestants, liberal Protestants, or those with no religious affiliation (Heaton and Goodman, 1985). One study of Canadians indicates that Canadian Catholics are three times as likely, Protestants twice as likely, and those without a religious affiliation four times as likely as Latter-day Saints not to have married by age thirty (Heaton, 1988). The most recent national U.S. data show LDS more likely to be currently married and less likely to have never married than other similarly situated Americans (Heaton et al., 1989). Furthermore, the same data show that LDS men marry about one and one-half years earlier than their non-Mormon counterparts, but LDS females marry at about the same age as other females.

Although the findings are not conclusive, it appears that less active Mormons (those not marrying in a temple) marry at younger ages than those marrying in a temple (Thomas, 1983). Some of this difference may be accounted for by the number of active Latter-day Saint males serving missions during these early years. Most unmarried young LDS men who go on missions serve from about age nineteen until twenty-one.

Given the necessity of marrying another Latter-day Saint in a temple to achieve the greatest happiness in this life and exaltation in the highest level of the Celestial Kingdom hereafter, one would expect that Mormons in general, and active Latter-day Saints in particular, would have lower rates of interfaith marriages than members of other faiths or those with no affiliation. What little research has been done on LDS interfaith marriages tends to be based on small, localized samples. It appears, however, that in general (1) Mormon females are more likely to marry outside the Church than are Mormon males; (2) active Mormons are less likely to marry non-Mormons than are less active Mormons; and (3) non-Mormon spouses (especially non-Mormon husbands) are more likely to convert to the Church than Mormons are to convert to a non-Mormon spouse's faith (Barlow, 1977).

DIVORCE. Based on research done in the 1970s and early 1980s, it has been concluded that Latter-day Saints are less likely to divorce than Catholics and Protestants and are far less likely than those with no religious affiliation. A study comparing Mormons in the United States and Canada with Protestants, Catholics, and those with no religious affiliation found that 14 percent of the Mormon men and 19 percent of the women had divorced. Comparable figures among the other groups were 20 percent and 23 percent for Catholic males and females; 24 percent and 31 percent for liberal Protestant males and females; 28 percent and 31 percent for conservative Protestant males and females; and 39 percent for males and 45 percent for females with no religious affiliation (Heaton and Goodman, 1985).

Latter-day Saints married in a temple ceremony are considerably less likely to divorce than those married outside the temple (Thomas, 1983). Among men and women who were married in the temple, 6 percent of the men and 7 percent of the women have been divorced, while among men and women not married in the temple the figures were 28 percent and 33 percent, respectively (Heaton, 1988).

GENDER ROLES. "God established that fathers are to preside in the home. Fathers are to provide, to love, to teach, and to direct. But a mother's role is also God-ordained. Mothers are to conceive, to bear, to nourish, to love, and to train. So declare the revelations" (Benson, p. 2). This statement, made by Church President Ezra Taft Benson, exemplifies the LDS teaching that men and women have different—but closely intertwined and mutually supporting—roles in the marital and family setting. Research bears out this distinctive emphasis. Mormon males and females tend to be more conservative and traditional in their gender role attitudes and behavior than members of other faiths (Brinkerhoff and MacKie, 1988; Heaton, 1988; Heaton et al., 1989). LDS males spend about the same amount of time performing household tasks as non-Mormon males, but Mormon females spend significantly more time at such tasks than non-Mormon females. LDS females spend more time performing not only traditional female tasks, but also traditional male tasks (e.g., outdoor tasks, paying bills, and auto maintenance) than do female non-Mormons. These differences in both attitudes and behavior are not viewed negatively by either LDS men or women. They are as likely to be satisfied with their marriages and their roles in marriage as their non-Mormon counterparts (Heaton et al., 1989).


Bahr, Howard M., and Renata Tonks Forste. "Toward a Social Science of Contemporary Mormondom." BYU Studies 26 (1986):73-121.

Barlow, Brent A. "Notes on Mormon Interfaith Marriages." Family Coordinator 26 (1977):143-50.

Benson, Ezra Taft. To the Mothers in Zion. Salt Lake City, 1987.

Brinkerhoff, Merlin B., and Marlene MacKie. "Religious Sources of Gender Traditionalism." In The Religion and Family Connection, ed. D. Thomas. Provo, Utah, 1988.

Heaton, Tim B. "Four C's of the Mormon Family: Chastity, Conjugality, Children, and Chauvinism." In The Religion and Family Connection, ed. D. Thomas. Provo, Utah, 1988.

Heaton, Tim B., and Kristin L. Goodman. "Religion and Family Formation." Review of Religious Research 26 (1985):343-59.

Heaton, Tim B.; Darwin L. Thomas; and Kristin L. Goodman. "In Search of a Peculiar People: Are Mormon Families Really Different?" Society for the Scientific Study of Religion, Oct. 1989.

Thomas, Darwin L. "Family in the Mormon Experience." In Families and Religion, ed. W. D'Antonio and J. Aldous. Beverly Hills, Calif., 1983.

Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Vol. 2, Marriage, Social Perspective

Copyright 1992 by Macmillan Publishing Company

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