Sexuality and Mormonism

Sexuality has a prominent role within the theology of Mormonism, including that of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church). The church teaches that gender is defined in the premortal existence, and that part of the purpose of mortal life is for men and women to be sealed together, forming bonds that allow them to progress eternally together in the afterlife. The church teaches that sexual relations within the framework of opposite-sex marriage is healthy, necessary, and ordained of God. In contrast with some orthodox Christian movements, sexuality in Mormon theology is neither a product of original sin nor a "necessary evil;" however, because of the tremendous power of sexuality both for good and for evil, its expression in the LDS Church is subject to strict commandments—specifically, that there are to be no sexual relations of any kind outside of marriage, as defined by the church and by law.


Main article: Law of chastity

The LDS Church teaches its members to obey what it calls the law of chastity, which is a code of morality and modesty. Under this code, all members are taught to be "morally clean in their thoughts, words, and actions" and to abstain from pornography.[1] Violations of this code include "adultery, being without natural affection, lustfulness, infidelity, incontinence,[2] filthy communications, impurity, inordinate affection, fornication. They included all sexual relations outside marriage—petting, sex perversion, and preoccupation with sex in one’s thoughts and talking."[3]

Though celestial marriage is the only form of marriage recognized as a sacrament, the church permits sex within government-recognized marital unions, the notable exceptions being same-sex marriage, common law marriage, civil unions (in jurisdictions where marriage is available), and polygamy. The church is sensitive about its historical relationship with polygamy, and entry into a polygamous marriage, even where legal, will result in mandatory consideration of church discipline and possible excommunication.[4] Today, the church's teachings allow married couples to decide what is appropriate sexual behavior between themselves.[5] The law of chastity has also been interpreted to include various standards of modesty,[6] which have varied according to cultural norms of the time. Serious offenses of the law of chastity may result in church discipline, including the possibility of excommunication.[7]

LGBT members of the church are expected to keep the law of chastity.[8] The church characterizes its church discipline policy as neutral regarding sexual orientation.[9] If gay or lesbian members desire to enter into a heterosexual marriage, they are advised that they should first learn to deal with their homosexual feelings; otherwise, they must remain celibate.[10] Gay or lesbian sex, in any form, whether the participants are married or not, is grounds for church discipline.[7] Participation in "repeated homosexual activities (by adults)" results in the First Presidency making a permanent special annotation to a person's membership record.[11] In most cases, gay or lesbian sex bars a person, permanently, from serving as a church missionary.[12]


From the 1830s, marriage has been a central and distinctive component of Mormon theology. Mormon teachings on marriage begins with the belief that, if performed by a person who has the requisite priesthood authority, a marriage may continue in the afterlife. Such a marriage is called a "celestial marriage"[13] or a "temple marriage",[14] and is a particular instance of a "sealing" which binds people together in the afterlife. Celestial marriage is considered to be a requirement for entry into the highest "degree" of the celestial kingdom (the highest degree of heaven in Latter Day Saint theology), and is thought to allow the participants to continue to have spirit children in the afterlife and become gods. According to Mormon belief, the continuance of a celestial marriage in the afterlife is contingent upon the couple remaining righteous. In rare cases, a couple's exaltation may be "made sure" through the ritual of the second anointing.

In the 1800s, the practice of celestial marriage included plural marriage, a form of polygamy. According to a consensus of historians, the practice of plural marriage was taught by Joseph Smith, the founder of the Latter Day Saint movement, and after Smith's death was formally acknowledged in 1852 by Brigham Young, leader of the LDS Church. The practice became famous during the 19th century when it was opposed and outlawed by the United States federal government, resulting in an intense legal conflict, which culminated in LDS Church president Wilford Woodruff issuing the 1890 Manifesto, which officially discontinued the creation of new plural marriages in church temples.[15] Nevertheless, unofficial plural marriages continued within the LDS Church after 1890 for some years, often in Mexico. In 1904, the church issued a Second Manifesto, which discontinued the official practice worldwide and established excommunication as a possible penalty for violators. These manifestos did not automatically divorce existing plural unions, however, and some couples in the LDS Church continued to live together as plural families well into the 20th century, with the final polygamous marriage in the LDS Church ending in 1954 when one of Edward Eyring's two wives died.

The LDS Church now embraces monogamy and the nuclear family. Members who are found entering into or solemnizing polygamous marriages or associating with polygamous groups are now subject to church discipline and possible excommunication.[4] Beginning in the late-20th century, the LDS Church began supporting political and legal measures to limit legal marriage to a union of one man and one woman.

The LDS Church does, however, continue to recognize some theological aspects of its polygamy doctrine. Although both men and women may enter a celestial marriage with only one partner at a time, a man may be sealed to more than one woman. If his first wife dies, he may enter another celestial marriage, and be sealed to both his living wife and deceased wife or wives. A woman, however, may only be sealed to one man during her lifetime.[16] This leaves room to believe that all these marriages will be valid in the eternities and the husband and all his sealed wives will live together in the afterlife as a polygamous family. In the 1950s, one influential church leader wrote that plural marriage would "obviously" be reinstituted after the Second Coming of Jesus.[17]

While not accorded the theological significance of a celestial marriage, the LDS Church does recognize civil marriages or marriages performed within other religious traditions. In the 1870s, a prominent Mormon writer wrote that Mormons considered such a marriage to be "no marriage at all."[18] Today, however, non-celestial marriages are respected and recognized as valid by the church, but such marriages must be legal according to the government where the marriage is performed, and must not be a same-sex marriage, polygamous marriage, common law marriage, or other type of non-ceremonial marriages in non–common law countries. Moreover, such marriages are thought to last only for the mortal life, and not into the next. In countries where the church's celestial marriages are not recognized by the government, the church requires that it be preceded by a civil marriage.[19]

In the United States, the LDS Church has expressed support for a constitutional ban on same-sex and polygamous marriage and has stated that it "favors measures that define marriage as the union of a man and a woman and that do not confer legal status on any other sexual relationship."[20] The church's position is that government recognition of such rights will "undermine the divinely created institution of the family".[20]

Sexual orientation

The church recognizes and officially welcomes gays and lesbians as members[21] under condition that they attempt to live the church's moral code. The church teaches that homosexual feelings, as distinct from behavior, may sometimes seem to be inborn,[22] and that although these feelings are sometimes unwanted, they can and should be controlled.[10] The church's law of chastity forbids homosexual sex in all contexts. Consistently breaking the law of chastity may result in excommunication. Nevertheless, Latter-day Saints who identify themselves as gay or lesbian may remain in good standing in the church, without ramification, if they abstain from homosexual relations.[8][10]

In addition to opposing gay and lesbian sex, the LDS Church also opposes and campaigns against the extension of marital rights to gay and lesbian families that would, in its opinion, undermine the tradition of heterosexual monogamous marriage.[20] Since the 1990s, the issue of same-sex marriage has been one of the church’s foremost political concerns.

In 2008, the church participated in a campaign in support of California Proposition 8, which proposed limiting the definition of marriage to a union of one man and one woman. This mobilized many of its members to donate time and money towards the initiative. The political organization, the official proponents of Proposition 8, estimate that about half the donations they received came from Mormon sources, and that "eighty to ninety percent" of the early volunteers going door-to-door were members of the LDS Church.[23] The church was criticized for its involvement by non-members and by some of its members, and in 2010, general authority Marlin K. Jensen personally apologized to church members in California for the church's role.[24]


An official statement made in 1995 by the LDS Church's First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles states that "gender is an essential characteristic of individual pre-mortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose".[25]

The LDS Church has no official policy on the status of intersex persons. Transgender persons are accepted in the church and may be baptized, but may not receive the priesthood or enter the temple if they are considering or have undergone elective sex reassignment surgery.[26]

Within the church, there have also been a number of unofficial statements regarding gender. For example, "Strengthening Our Families: An In-Depth Look at the Proclamation on the Family"[27] (a book compiled by the School of Family Life at the church-owned Brigham Young University) states, "Although we do not fully understand the eternal nature of gender, we should acknowledge its meaning and purpose, and humbly seek to understand and appreciate the nature of divine gender distinctions in God's plan for His children."[28] The book also states:

God created us male and female. This is not a mistake or a variety of genetic or hormonal chance. What we call gender is an essential characteristic of our existence prior to our birth. Gender is part of our eternal identity and essential to our eternal progression. Although we may not know all the reasons why this is so, we do know some of the reasons why gender is essential to our eternal progression. To achieve our exaltation, an eternal marriage between a man and a woman is necessary .... The sexual union between a married man and woman is, among other things, the means God has ordained to bring His spirit children into mortality, which is an essential step in the plan of salvation.[29]

In a contribution to a work on the church's 1995 official statement, Robert L. Millet writes that "[o]ver the last four decades, we have observed widespread consideration of ideas and worldviews that are destructive of individuals and families." He then discusses instances such as when men have been instructed to be stoic, or stern, to hide their emotions. He continues:

In general we could say that men and women, in and out of the Church, have been taunted and titillated with views concerning man, woman, priesthood, and family that are at odds with the revealed word and thus with "things as they really are, and ... as they really will be" (Jacob 4:13) .... No person who revolts against the divinely established role and calling he or she was given before the foundations of this earth were laid can be happy or find real fulfillment, not here or in eternity.[30]

Apostle David A. Bednar stated: "[Gender] in large measure defines who we are, why we are here upon the earth, and what we are to do and become. For divine purposes, male and female spirits are different, distinctive, and complementary. … The unique combination of spiritual, physical, mental, and emotional capacities of both males and females were needed to implement the plan of happiness".[31]

Apostle M. Russell Ballard taught, "The premortal and mortal natures of men and women were specified by God Himself. … [Sometimes women] ask: 'Is a woman's value dependent exclusively upon her role as a wife and mother?' The answer is simple and obvious: No. … Every righteous man and woman has a significant role to play in the onward march of the kingdom of God."[32]

See also


  1. "Chastity". Gospel Study: Study by Topic. LDS Church.
  2. Secondary definition: Incontinence (philosophy): lacking in moderation or self-control, especially of sexual desire.
  3. Kimball, Spencer W. (November 1980), "Kimball Speaks Out on Morality", Ensign
  4. 1 2 Handbook 1: Stake Presidents and Bishops (Salt Lake City, Utah: LDS Church, 2010) §§ 6.7.3, 6.9.3.
  5. Some church leaders have taught that oral sex, anal sex, and contraception are sinful, but there is no official policy prohibiting them.
  6. "Modesty". Gospel Study: Study by Topic. LDS Church.
  7. 1 2 Handbook 1: Stake Presidents and Bishops (Salt Lake City, Utah: LDS Church, 2010) §§ 6.7.2.
  8. 1 2 Hinckley, Gordon B. (November 1998), "What Are People Asking about Us?", Ensign, LDS Church
  9. Lattin, Don (April 13, 1997), "Musings of the Main Mormon: Gordon B. Hinckley, "president, prophet, seer and revelator: of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, sits at the top of one of the world's fastest-growing religions", San Francisco Chronicle, Hinckley: “Now we have gays in the church. Good people. We take no action against such people – provided they don’t become involved in transgression, sexual transgression. If they do, we do with them exactly what we’d do with heterosexuals who transgress.
  10. 1 2 3 Oaks, Dallin H.; Wickman, Lance B. (2007). "Same-Gender Attraction". Newsroom, LDS Church (Interview: Transcript). Interview with LDS Church Public Affairs staffers. Salt Lake City, Utah.
  11. Handbook 1: Stake Presidents and Bishops (Salt Lake City, Utah: LDS Church, 2010) §§ 6.13.3.
  12. Handbook 1: Stake Presidents and Bishops (Salt Lake City, Utah: LDS Church, 2010) §§ 4.5.2: "A candidate who has participated in homosexual activity during or after the last three teenage years will not normally be considered for missionary service, especially if the person has participated in such activities with several partners or with one partner over an extended period of time. In rare cases the stake president may submit a recommendation that the First Presidency consider an exception if there is strong evidence of genuine repentance and reformation and if the candidate has been free of transgression for a sufficient period of time. This period of repentance should be at least one year and may be as long as three years if the acts occurred several times or over an extended time or if the person was the aggressor."
  13. In the 19th century, the term "celestial marriage" was used interchangeably with the term "plural marriage". Some early Mormons (and present-day Mormon fundamentalists) considered polygamy to be a requirement for exaltation.
  14. Handbook 1: Bishops and Stake Presidents (Salt Lake City, Utah: LDS Church, 2010) § 3.5.1.
  15. Woodruff's declaration was formally accepted by the membership in a church general conference on October 6, 1890.
  16. The LDS Church has clarified that a woman may also be sealed to more than one man. A woman, however, may not be sealed to more than one man while she is alive. She may only be sealed to subsequent partners after she has died: Handbook 1: Bishops and Stake Presidents (Salt Lake City, Utah: LDS Church, 2010) § 3.6.1. Church leaders have not clarified if women in such circumstances will live in a polyandrous relationship in the afterlife. It should be noted, however, that proxy sealings, like proxy baptisms, are merely offered to the person in the afterlife, indicating that the purpose may be to allow the woman to choose the man she wishes to be sealed to.
  17. Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine (Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft, 1958) s.v. "Plural marriage": "Obviously the holy practice will commence again after the Second Coming of the Son of Man and the ushering in of the Millennium."
  18. Penrose (1871, p. 4)
  19. Handbook 1: Bishops and Stake Presidents (Salt Lake City, Utah: LDS Church, 2010) § 3.6.1.
  20. 1 2 3 Hinckley, Gordon B.; Monson, Thomas S.; Faust, James E. (October 20, 2004), First Presidency Statement on Same-Gender Marriage, Salt Lake City, Utah: LDS Church.
  21. Hinckley, Gordon B. (Nov 1999), Why We Do Some of the Things We Do, Ensign, Our hearts reach out to those who refer to themselves as gays and lesbians. We love and honor them as sons and daughters of God. They are welcome in the Church.
  22. Oaks, Dallin H. (October 1995), "Same-Gender Attraction", Ensign, retrieved 2011-08-17
  23. McKinley, Jesse; Johnson, Kirk (2008-11-14), "Mormons Tipped Scale in Ban on Gay Marriage", The New York Times, retrieved 2008-12-24
  24. Joanna Brooks, "Mormon Leader: ‘I’m Sorry’ For Hurtful Legacy of Prop. 8", Religion Dispatches, 2010-09-28: "According to attendee Carol Lynn Pearson, a Mormon author and longtime advocate of LGBT concerns, Elder Jensen said, 'To the full extent of my capacity, I say that I am sorry... I know that many very good people have been deeply hurt, and I know that the Lord expects better of us.'"
  25. The Family: A Proclamation to the World, LDS Church, 1995
  26. Handbook 1: Bishops and Stake Presidents (Salt Lake City, Utah: LDS Church, 2010) §§ 3.3.4, 16.3.16.
  27. Dollahite 2000
  28. Dollahite 2000, p. 76
  29. Dollahite 2000, p. 223
  30. Millet, Robert L. (2005), "Standing in Holy Places—As Individuals and Families", in Dollahite, David C.; Newell, Lloyd D.; Hart, Craig H.; Walton, Elaine, Helping and Healing Our Families: Principles and Practices Inspired by The Family: A Proclamation to the World, pp. 8–9, ISBN 978-1-59038-485-5, OCLC 60596125
  31. Bednar, David A. (June 2006), "Marriage Is Essential to His Eternal Plan", Ensign: 83
  32. Ballard, M. Russell (April 2002), "Women of Righteousness", Ensign: 66–69


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