A friend of mine sent me this question last week, and I thought that it might be worthwhile to share it with others, since she's probably not the only one who wants to know the answer. Therefore I am publishing a modified version of her question (to preserve her anonymity) and my answer with her permission.
I was curious about some things. With all this talk lately about Temple marriage and stuff, I was wondering, is it necessary? Being sealed to your family and all that.
Reason: A friend of mine mentioned that she didn't think she would ever get married. And one of her friends said the same thing. And I think they are pretty great girls, and I actually think they will get married to someone, but whatever. My point is, what if they don't? Also, I have some good friends who are married, they are great and love each other, but what if they don't get sealed to each other? What if I don't? Is that going to stop their, or my, progression?
And what about the kids thing? Say, those girls do eventually get married to someone, neither of them want kids. And you know that my married friends don't want kids. Does that mean that's it?
Also, on a personal front, I want to get married. I want to have a family. However, I don't think that will happen. I really want to progress. I want to continue to go on a path, I just want to know what is expected. That wasn't quite the right word. I don't know how to express what I am asking here, but I am hoping that you know me enough to know what I am asking.
I just happened to be reading on this subject yesterday, and so it is fresh in my mind. When it comes to our salvation resting on the principle of eternal marriage it is helpful to think of it in this light, namely that it is a matter of obtaining ALL of the blessings that the Lord has in store for us on condition of obedience to ALL of the principles of the Gospel. It’s not so much a matter of punishment by God for failing to live all of his commandments, than it is one of depriving our own selves of great blessings that a loving God has promised us will come on condition of (if not exactly in consequence of) our own obedience. Joseph Smith said it best (as recorded in D&C 130:20-21) when he said: “There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated—And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated.” If we refuse to pay tithing, we are not entitled to receive the blessings attached to living that principle. The same is true of the Law of Chastity, or keeping the Sabbath day holy, or any of the multitude of principles that we have been taught through the gospel. This is just so with the principle of Eternal Marriage. The real question then becomes: Why would anyone voluntarily forfeit any of the blessings of heaven, much less those attached to eternal marriage? There is also the unavoidable fact that eternal marriage is the fulfillment of God’s plan for us, and that in order to realize all that He intends for us we must live up to this principle which he has set forth for our eternal welfare. “Marriage is an eternal covenant, not to come to an end as taught so generally throughout the world when the covenanting parties are dead, but to endure forever. The real purpose of life is that the spirits of men thus clothed in bodies of flesh and bones may, through obedience to the gospel, come back into the presence of the Father and the Son, to receive the fullness of exaltation…Marriage according to the law of the church is a most holy and sacred ordinance. It will bring to the husband and wife, if they abide in their covenants, the fullness of exaltation in the kingdom of God.” (Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation Vol. II pp.86, 84)
As with all commandments and blessings from God, there is great responsibility attached to the principle of eternal marriage. I personally view this added responsibility as one of the blessings that God has laid up in store for those that demonstrate their worthiness and readiness to receive and accept such responsibility. Conversely, “if a man refuses to take upon himself the responsibilities of married life, because he desires to avoid the cares and troubles which naturally will follow, he is taking a course which may bar him forever from the responsibilities which are held in reserve for those who are willing to keep in full the commandments of the Lord. His eternal progression will thus be limited…he will be numbered among the angels who cannot be enlarged. It will not be his privilege to be numbered among the sons of God, and thus be entitled as an heir to partake of the blessings reserved for those who receive an inheritance in the Father’s kingdom.” (Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation Vol. II pp.74-75)
Here is what Scriptures have to say on the matter. “Therefore, if a man marry him a wife in the world, and he marry her not by me nor by my word, and he covenant with her so long as he is in the world and she with him, their covenant and marriage are not of force when they are dead, and when they are out of the world; therefore, they are not bound by any law when they are out of the world. Therefore, when they are out of the world they neither marry nor are given in marriage; but are appointed angels in heaven, which angels are ministering servants, to minister for those who are worthy of a far more, and an exceeding, and an eternal weight of glory. For these angels did not abide my law; therefore, they cannot be enlarged, but remain separately and singly, without exaltation, in their saved condition, to all eternity; and from henceforth are not gods, but are angels of God forever and ever.” (D&C 132:15-17)
So simple answer: You will not burn in hellfire if you are not married for time and all eternity, but you will fail to realize all of your eternal potential, and in my opinion, that qualifies as damnation (in the sense that your eternal progression will be limited).
But what about faithful sisters, who for whatever reason are unable to find a worthy man to marry? (You know to whom I am referring specifically.) Joseph Fielding Smith has this to say about their situation:
“Marry right or not at all…You good sisters, who are single and alone, do not fear, do not feel that blessings are going to be withheld from you. You are not under any obligation or necessity of accepting some proposal that comes to you which is distasteful for fear you will come under condemnation. If in your hearts you feel that the gospel is true, and would under proper conditions receive these ordinances and sealing blessings in the temple of the Lord; and that is your faith and your hope and your desire, and that does not come to you now; the Lord will make it up, and you shall be blessed-for no blessing shall be withheld.
The Lord will judge you according to the desires of your hearts when blessing are withheld in this life, and he is not going to condemn you for that which you cannot help.” (Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation Vol. II pg.76)
At this point I feel I should emphasize that this does not constitute some sort of “get out of jail free” card as it concerns living the principle of eternal marriage. Note that the blessings of the Lord are contingent upon sincere faith, hope, and desire, and for that matter, worthiness, on your part. This is merely a statement that a loving and just God knows each of us individually and knows the desires of our hearts, and that he will give everyone the opportunity to obey his commandments.
The eternal importance of this particular principle might help to explain the tendency that we have observed among some of our Latter-day Saint peers to meet and marry someone over the course of only a very short space of time. I believe that this proceeds from a sincere desire on their part to fulfill the commandments of the Lord, however, I would argue that the very import of this particular principle should preclude us from running out and marrying the first willing person that we can find. This covenant is not a thing to be trifled with, nor is it one to be entered into lightly.
“Use care in choosing marriage companion. This life is short and eternity is long. When we contemplate that the marriage covenant will endure forever, it is well that it should be given careful consideration. Hasty action in this most important step in life may fill the mortal lives of husband, wife, and children with endless sorrow. The results may and often do reach into eternity and cause irreparable regrets that will endure forever. Marriage…is the one thing in life where it might prove fatal to act in haste with the idea in mind that repentance could come at leisure.” (Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation Vol. II pg.77)
As for the question of whether or not you MUST have children, I find that it is helpful to review the position of the Church concerning such matters, as found in the reference book “True to the faith”, which is published by the church:
“When married couples are physically able, they have the privilege of providing mortal bodies for Heavenly Father’s spirit children. They play a part in the great plan of happiness, which permits God’s children to receive physical bodies and experience mortality.
If you are married, you and your spouse should discuss your sacred responsibility to bring children into the world and nurture them in righteousness. As you do so, consider the sanctity and meaning of life. Ponder the joy that comes when children are in the home. Consider the eternal blessings that come from having a good posterity. With a testimony of these principles, you and your spouse will be prepared to prayerfully decide how many children to have and when to have them. Such decisions are between the two of you and the Lord.
As you discuss this sacred matter, remember that sexual relations within marriage are divinely approved. While one purpose of these relations is to provide physical bodies for God’s children, another purpose is to express love for one another—to bind husband and wife together in loyalty, fidelity, consideration, and common purpose.” (True to the Faith, Birth Control, p. 26). This is echoed in the entry under “birth control” on lds.org (an official church website), and elaborated upon thusly: “Husband and wife are encouraged to pray and counsel together as they plan their families. Issues to consider include the physical and mental health of the mother and father and their capacity to provide the basic necessities of life for their children.”
From the days of Adam we have been commanded to “be fruitful and multiply” (see Genesis 1:28; Moses 2:28). This is because children are one of the greatest blessings in this life. Through the principle of eternal marriage our children, and the ability to have children, can be an eternal blessing that will bring great joy to us in the life to come. Joseph Fielding Smith explained some of the blessings that can come through bringing children into this world. “ The Lord has revealed that when a man and a woman are married according to his law, children born to them will be theirs throughout all eternity.” (Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation Vol. II pg.86)
Consider also the fact that one of the defining characteristics of God himself is his fatherhood. Whose father is he? Why, OUR father of course. (See Romans 8:16-17; Hebrews 12:9) All that he does is for the eternal welfare of his children (Moses 1:39), and He is motivated by a love that surpasses mortal understanding. (See Romans 8:38-39; 1 John 4:7-16) Our Father in heaven wants us to have all of the blessings that he has. “God’s whole purpose-his work and his glory-is to enable each of us to enjoy all His blessings.” (Preach My Gospel, pg. 48)
“Nothing should be held in greater sacredness and honor than the covenant by which the spirits of men-the offspring of God in the spirit-are privileged to come into this world in mortal tabernacles. It is through this principle that the blessing of immortal glory is made possible…And then to think that we are not only privileged, but also commanded to assist our Father in the great work of redemption by giving to his children, as we have obtained these blessings ourselves, the right to live and continue on even to perfection!” (Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation Vol. II pg. 85)
God loves us, and he knows each of us individually. The commandment to marry a righteous partner for time and all eternity, and to raise an eternal family with that person should be viewed as an honor, a privilege, and a blessing. This commandment was never intended to provoke fear or trepidation in the hearts of God’s children, but rather hope and joy. It simply falls to us to live worthily according to the gospel, so that we might realize our full potential as God sees in each of us. As to your question, I think that I can sum up my answer most succinctly with a quote from “The Family: A proclamation to the world”. “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. Happiness in family life is most likely to be achieved when founded upon the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ.”