Civil Marriage vs. Temple Marriage
by W. John Walsh
The Church strongly counsels members to marry in
the temple, instead of a civil ceremony, if at all possible. President Ezra Taft Benson
"If youth are going to inherit the
highest degree of glory in the celestial
kingdom, this means marriage for time and all eternity in the temples of God. That is
the only plan that has been provided by our Heavenly Father. We want them to keep their
covenants after they have been in those sacred places. We want them to marry in the Church
and to marry in the temple of God." (Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, p.559)
In fact, Church leaders consider this such a
"no-brainer" that they have told members they don't even have to pray about this
issue. For example, Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin taught:
"The answers to prayers often have a
familiar spirit, for the Lord has already given us answers through Church policy, the
scriptures, or counsel from the General Authorities at general conference. If we would
only think first, sometimes we would have less need to ask except to gain confirmation by
the Spirit. We don't have to ask the Lord whether we should marry outside of the
temple." (See The Will of the Lord)
If members reject the counsel of the prophets and
marry in a civil ceremony anyway, then they are required to wait at least one full year
before they are allowed to enter the temple for a temple sealing.
Occasionally, people may not have a realistic
opportunity to choose a temple marriage over a civil ceremony (e.g., Latter-day Saints who
live in countries without a temple and are forbidden by law to leave their country, even
for a religious journey so they can be sealed). The Church is doing everything
possible to build new temples throughout the world to give everyone access to their sacred ordinances. (See Benediction by President
Gordon B. Hinckley) Until this happens, some people may be forced by circumstance to
accept a civil ceremony. In such cases, Church leaders have counseled people to go
to the temple as soon as possible. President Joseph F. Smith taught:
"We say to our young people, get
married, and marry aright. Marry in the faith, and let the ceremony be performed in the
place God has appointed. Live so that you may be worthy of this blessing. If, however,
obstacles, not at present removable, prevent this most perfect form of marriage, have your
bishop perform the ceremony, and then, at the earliest possible moment, go to the
temple." (Gospel Doctrine, p.275)
However, Latter-day Saints are encouraged to make whatever sacrifice is necessary to
marry in the temple. President Heber J. Grant tells the following story about his
sacrifices to marry in the temple:
"I shall always be grateful, to the day of my death, that I did not listen to some
of my friends when, as a young man not quite twenty-one years of age, I took the trouble
to travel all the way from Utah County to St. George to be married in the St. George
Temple. That was before the railroad went south of Utah County, and we had to travel the
rest of the way by team. It was a long and difficult trip in those times, over unimproved
and uncertain roads, and the journey each way required several days.
Many advised me not to make the effort--not to go all the way down to St. George to be
married. They reasoned that I could have the president of the stake or my bishop marry me,
and then when the Salt Lake Temple was completed, I could go there with my wife and
children and be sealed to her and have our children sealed to us for eternity.
Why did I not listen to them? Because I wanted to be married for time and
eternity--because I wanted to start life right. Later I had cause to rejoice greatly
because of my determination to be married in the temple at that time rather than to have
waited until some later and seemingly more convenient time.
Some years ago the general board members of the Young Women's Mutual Improvement
Association were traveling throughout the stakes of Zion speaking on the subject of
marriage. They urged the young people to start their lives together in the right way by
being married right, in the temples of the Lord.
I was out in one of the stakes attending a conference, and one of my daughters, who was
the representative of the Young Women's general board at the conference, said: 'I am very
grateful to the Lord that I was properly born, born under the covenant, born of parents
that had been properly married and sealed in the temple of the Lord.'
Tears came into my eyes, because her mother died before the Salt Lake Temple was
completed and I was grateful that I had not listened to the remarks of my friends who had
tried to persuade me not to go to the St. George Temple to be married. I was very grateful
for the inspiration and determination I had to start life right.
Why did it come to me? It came to me because my mother believed in the gospel, taught
me the value of it, gave me a desire to get all of the benefits of starting life right and
of doing things according to the teachings of the gospel.
I believe that no worthy young Latter-day Saint man or woman should spare any
reasonable effort to come to the house of the Lord to begin life together. The marriage
vows taken in these hallowed places and the sacred covenants entered into for time and all
eternity are proof against many of the temptations of life that tend to break homes and
destroy happiness." (Gospel Standards, p.359-60)
President David O. McKay mentioned some of the reasons why members should wait for a
"Temple marriage is basically appealing; it is scientifically sound; and any young
man who takes his sweetheart to a temple should go there with the understanding that their
union is to be just as eternal as the love that has brought them to the altar, and there
is no question about it.
Before you can get married in the temple, it is required that you have lived a clean
life. You have the assurance, young lady, that the man whom you are about to marry is
bringing to you a clean body. Each of you has the assurance that the source of life is
To summarize: Young men and young women who would live the happiest lives would do well
to prepare themselves to be worthy of that form of marriage which God has
ordainedthe union of a man and woman worthy to have their marriage solemnized in the
temple of the Most High. There as true lovers kneel to plight their troth, each may
cherish the assurance of the following:
First, that their married course begins in purity. The children who come to bless the
union are guaranteed a royal birth so far as inheriting a clean body is concerned.
Second, that their religious views are the same. The difficulty of rearing children
properly is aggravated when Father and Mother have divergent views regarding doctrine and
church affiliation. (Another great advantage of seminaries, auxiliaries, Sunday School,
etc., you meet those of your own Church!)
Third, that their vows are made with the idea of an eternal union, not to be broken by
petty misunderstandings or difficulties.
Fourth, that a covenant made in God's presence and sealed by the Holy Priesthood is
more binding than any other bond.
Fifth, that a marriage thus commenced is as eternal as love, the divinest attribute of
the human soul.
Sixth, that the family unit will remain unbroken throughout eternity.
Boys and girls, God bless you to keep your lives unpolluted, that you may go in prayer
to God and ask him to guide you in choosing your mates, and when chosen, that you will
both so live that you can enter the house of God, and if he were present and asked you
about your lives, you could answer him honestly, 'Yes, we are clean.'
A marriage begun on that basis, will bring you the happiness, the sweetest joy known in
this life, or throughout eternity." (Gospel Ideals, p.466)
Regarding the teachings of his father, President Joseph Fielding Smith said:
"I have heard President Joseph F. Smith say on several occasions that he would
rather take his children one by one to the grave in their innocence and purity, knowing
that they would come forth to inherit the fulness of celestial glory, than to have them
marry outside of the Church, or even outside the temple of the Lord. Why should he
have been so emphatic? Because he had perfect knowledge of what marriage, according to the
law of the Lord, means; and because he knew the consequences attending the rejection of
this covenant in the house of the Lord. For those who refuse to receive this ordinance, as
the Lord ordained, cannot enter into the fulness of celestial glory." (Doctrines of
Salvation, Vol.2, p.76)
He added his own feelings about this issue, as follows:
"What does a young woman or a young man do who marries outside of the temple of
the Lord? Unless young people who marry outside the temple speedily repent, they cut
themselves off from exaltation in
the celestial kingdom of God. If
they should prove themselves worthy, notwithstanding that great error, to enter into the
celestial kingdom, they go in that kingdom as servants.
What does that mean? The revelation tells us they go into that kingdom to be servants
to those who are worthy of a more highly exalted position--something with greater glory.
They are servants to them. They don't become sons and daughters of God. They are not joint
heirs with Jesus Christ. They do not obtain the kingdom, that is, the crown and the glory
of the kingdom of God. They who are married in the temple for time and eternity, if they
are true and faithful to their covenants, enter into that kingdom. They are heirs of that
kingdom, joint heirs with Jesus Christ, sons and daughters of God, entitled to the fulness
of the kingdom.
When they marry outside of the temple, they cut themselves off. If they are content
with that kind of marriage outside, when they come forth in the resurrection, they have no
claim upon each other, or their children upon them, and there will be weeping, wailing and
gnashing of teeth.
Those who are married in the temple for all time and eternity obtain the blessing of
eternal lives. I put stress on eternal lives. Eternal life is God's life, that is, to be
like him. Eternal lives means eternal increase--the continuation, as the revelation says,
of the seeds forever. To be married outside of the temple is for time only. Death
separates--that is an eternal separation, unless in the meantime they repent and are
fortunate enough to go to the temple and make amends.
Children born to them under the covenant--that is, to parents married in the
temple--are entitled to blessings which children outside of the covenant are not entitled
to receive. The Lord speaks of marriage outside of the temple as 'entering into the
deaths--eternal deaths.' That doesn't mean they are going to die again. Every soul will
get the resurrection. But after the resurrection comes the segregation into
kingdoms--celestial, terrestrial, telestial, and then to be cast out--which will come to
some--with the devil and his angels. Where they go, I don't know. The Lord has spoken of
it as outer darkness. So the Lord prepares places for all. Eternal deaths means that they
are separately and singly forever. They have no increase. The Lord calls that death. They
do not continue--that is, they do not continue through posterity--they come to an end.
Now, if our young people choose that sort of life, if that's what they want, I leave it
for them. My father on many occasions gathered his children together and instructed them.
He said he would rather take them to the grave and lay them away in their purity because
they would be entitled to the blessings of the kingdom of God, than to see them marry
outside of the house of the Lord--unless they repented--or to marry outside of the Church.
Some of our parents don't seem to care.
I pick up the evening newspaper sometimes, and I see pictures of very beautiful
girls--they don't put the pictures of the handsome boys in the papers--and I discover that
those girls--many of them are daughters of parents who are married in the temple and the
children were born under the covenant--marry outside of the temple, maybe outside of the
But these parents see to it that the picture is put in the paper, with a fine article
telling how the daughter is going to be dressed, whom she is marrying, what kind of
reception they are going to have, and they seem to be very happy. They should put on
sackcloth and sit in ashes. What are they doing? Of course there is such a thing as
repentance. They should pray for that repentance. But they should weep, not rejoice; they
should be sorry, not pleased, for they are assisting--if they have never taught their
children better--they are assisting in sending those children to the deaths eternally.
Now, did you ever think of this? This is the condition we find in every stake of Zion.
Where does the blame lie? Well, it may be a little with all of us, with the teachers who
visit the home, with those who talk to the members of the Church in sacrament meetings,
the bishops of wards, all who hold the priesthood; but primarily it rests upon the
shoulders of the parents for not teaching those children from their infancy beginning to
instruct them as soon as they can understand, what the kingdom of God means, what
exaltation in it means, and how it can be obtained.
I tell you, I would weep if I had a child who would marry outside of the temple of the
Lord. Fortunately I never had such a thing happen. I am grateful for that. My children
have married good companions--all of them active in the Church, all of them happy in their
membership. What will happen to the next generation, I don't know. But my children were
taught and I am grateful that they have followed the advice of their parents.
Now, if you are at fault, my good brothers and sisters, go to the Lord on your knees
and ask for forgiveness and see if you can't amend the evil, repair the broken commandment
for which you no doubt are partly, at least, responsible. If you have done all of
those--taught your children the best you could and they rebel against you--of course you
go before the Lord and tell him that your hands are clean, the children are rebellious.
People do have rebellious children. Adam had rebellious children Evidently the greater
part of his family were rebellious. People have an idea that Adam had only three sons, but
our D&C and Pearl of Great Price tell us differently. He lived a long time--had
children for many, many years, had children for hundreds of years until they became
numerous upon the face of the earth. And although I am sure he tried to teach them, many
of them rebelled. That can't always be avoided, but it can quite generally be avoided if
the parents are doing they duty, if they are living as they should live keeping the
commandments of the Lord, being true and faithful to every covenant they make.
I would like to say much about divorce. When you go home, you pick up your Bible and
turn to the nineteenth chapter of Matthew, read the first nine verses. I get letters
sometimes from people who say, 'What are we going to do? In Matthew it reads so and so and
yet the Church is not following it strictly.' Well, I write back and say I have no
authority to change the word of the Lord. Read it. There are too many divorces in this
Church, too many separations--many of them without proper cause And I have said before,
and I am going to repeat it: There never will be a divorce among those married in the
temple if both of the parties, husband and wife, are living they religion; they will never
separate. How can they if they keep the commandments of the Lord?
I read this morning to you from the fourth book of Nephi how they were given in
marriage and how happy they were, raising large families, multiplying, blessed by the
Spirit of the Lord. They didn't have any separations. They were not torn asunder because
there wasn't any wickedness among them. That is the way we ought to live." (Answers
to Gospel Questions, Vol.4, p. 196-200)
President Ezra Taft Benson taught:
"If someone wants to marry you outside the temple, whom will you strive to
pleaseGod or a mortal? If you insist on a temple marriage, you will be pleasing the
Lord and blessing the other party. Why? Because that person will either become worthy to
go to the templewhich would be a blessingor will leavewhich could also
be a blessingbecause neither of you should want to be unequally yoked (see 2
You should qualify for the temple. Then you will know that there is no one good enough
for you to marry outside the temple. If such individuals are that good, they will get
themselves in a condition so that they too can be married in the temple." (Teachings
of Ezra Taft Benson, p.351)
"I want to speak frankly to you young men and young women of the Church. When you
marry, your decision not only affects you, but your future children and generations after
you. Every child born to Latter-day Saint parents deserves to be born in the covenant of
temple blessings." (Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, p.538)
"Our Heavenly Father wants you to date young men who are faithful members of the
Church, who will be worthy to take you to the temple and be married the Lord's way. There
will be a new spirit in Zion when the young women will say to their boyfriends, 'If you
cannot get a temple recommend, then I am not about to tie my life to you, even for
mortality!' And the young returned missionary will say to his girlfriend, 'I am sorry, but
as much as I love you, I will not marry out of the holy temple.''' (Teachings of Ezra Taft
(See Eternal Marriage; Daily Living home page; Dating and Courtship home page; Teachings About Marriage home page)