Marriage is a fundamental tenet of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. But church leaders now face a matrimony problem within their flock: Young single Mormons are delaying marriage.
Becky Maher, 29, attends the American River Young Singles Adult Branch in Sacramento. She is active in the congregation and has held leadership positions in the church. But getting married has so far eluded her. "I would like to be married as soon as possible," she said.
Ben Forsyth, 28, is also a member of the singles congregation. Sunday, he led the congregation in the benediction. But he's not ready for marriage. "I don't think I've put it off, I just haven't found the right person," he said. This week he enters graduate school. "Marriage is something I'm aware of, but I'm not ready."
Maher and Forsyth reflect a shift that worries national church leaders. Women want to marry. Men want to wait. And church leaders are concerned because they believe marriage is a prerequisite for life in eternity.
Last weekend, Sacramento King draft pick and former Brigham Young University basketball star Jimmer Fredette announced his engagement via Twitter. At 22, he is following the traditional path for Mormons and is marrying young.
Church leaders want other Mormon men to follow his lead and not that of the nation as a whole. Last week the U.S. Census Bureau released figures indicating marriage is at an all-time low and people are waiting longer to tie the knot.
Mormon church leaders say Mormon men are postponing marriage either for financial, career or educational concerns. And sometimes for other reasons, according to church President Thomas Monson.
"Men are having a little too much fun being single, taking extravagant vacations, buying expensive cars and toys, and just generally enjoying the carefree life with your friends," Monson said in a speech to the Worldwide General Conference of the church in April.
Mormons believe that marriage in the temple is mandatory to reach the celestial, or highest level, of heaven. Only Mormons who marry can reach this level and expect to share eternity with their spouse and children.
Marriage is also important to the church because married men typically hold high leadership positions such as bishop and stake president.
Marriage is more important than education or career, said Thomas Holman, professor of family life at Brigham Young University. "When you scrimp and sacrifice together when you're young, that brings you closer."
The average age of first marriage for LDS church members is approximately 23, said Holman.
Monson alluded to the marriage age increasing, but specific numbers have not been released.
"In research I've done, 25 years old seems to be the breaking point," Holman said. "At that age, they should seriously start thinking about getting married."
According to the recent census figures, the median age for first marriage in the United States between 1970 and 2009 increased from 22.5 years to 28.4 for men, and from 20.6 years to 26.5 for women.
Mormon marriages appear to last longer. The divorce rate for Mormons is about 20 percent, according to Holman. For non-Mormons, it's more than 40 percent, he said.
LDS leaders promote marriage more than most faiths – they even have entire congregations for singles only.
In the Sacramento area, nearly 2,000 men and women, ages 18 to 30, attend one of 15 singles adult LDS congregations. Church members worship, socialize and perform volunteer work together. They also share a common goal – to meet and marry their spouse.
"We encourage them to date and to date often," said Richard Montgomery, regional director for public affairs.
Josh Robertson, 24, has dated but has not found the right person, "though I don't believe there is one right person for me." He is starting McGeorge Law School and doesn't foresee a lot of dating in his immediate future. "It takes two things I don't have right now, time and money."
Chandra Brown, 28, also attends the singles ward. She met her boyfriend at a Scripture class a few months ago. "So far it's going really well," Brown said.
She stressed the many benefits of joining a singles congregation, such as the opportunity to make friends, serve in the church and, of course, date people with similar beliefs.
The singles congregations aren't for everyone. Singles older than 30 and those with families are encouraged to attend family congregations, according to Montgomery. And singles who meet and marry their spouses move on to other congregations after they are wed.
In the past year, five couples who met at the ward have married.
Maher said she and her girlfriends want to marry but she has faith that it will happen at the right time. "God is in charge," she said.
And so are church leaders who are reminding men of their religious obligations.
"Brethren, there is a point at which it's time to think seriously about marriage and to seek a companion with whom you want to spend eternity," Monson said. "There is nothing in this life which will bring you greater happiness."