The disintegration of the family is a cancer plaguing society, said President James E. Faust, second counselor in the First Presidency.
"In every country there is a general breakdown of the moral fabric of society that confronts the sacred family institutions with new challenges," President Faust said. "You are all aware of this because it engulfs us. Governments exercise less and less moral authority. So the principal institutions which foster righteous living are the church and the family."
The family relationship of father, mother and children is the oldest and most enduring institution in the world, President Faust said. "By all odds, marriage is the most important decision one makes in mortal life.
"One should not get married just to get married. Mature preparation is required to take on the important responsibilities inherent in this sacred relationship. Marriage also requires faith faith in oneself, faith in one's marriage partner and faith in the Lord. It also requires total commitment by both parties," President Faust said.
The reluctance to marry is increasing worldwide, he added. Studies indicate that Latter-day Saints are more likely to marry than people in the general population, and that men who marry generally live longer and are happier. A happy family demands the complete devotion of both parties to each other.
"In terms of sexual intimacy, the Lord's law is abstinence before marriage and fidelity afterward," President Faust said.
The practice of cohabitation is now widely accepted as an alternative to marriage and divorce rates are rising.
"Experts project that about half of the women in the United States will have a marriage dissolve some time in their life," President Faust said. "Another alarming statistic is that out-of-wedlock births have increased by 158 percent."
Children are also becoming less valued, he added. "Abortion is probably the clearest sign that couples do not want children. An estimated one-quarter of all pregnancies worldwide end by induced abortion."
Infidelity can devastate mutual trust in a marriage. Adultery, said President Faust, is never justified.
"Occasionally marriages survive this destructive experience and families are preserved, but to do so requires the aggrieved partner to give unreserved love great enough to forgive and forget," he said. "It requires the errant partner to want desperately to repent, humbly seek forgiveness and actually forsake evil."
Loyalty to a marriage companion should be physical, mental and spiritual. Flirtations are never harmless and jealousy has no place in marriage, President Faust said.
President Faust said parents must protect their families with safeguards such as family prayer, family home evening and family and personal scripture study.
"The Spirit of the Lord is invited into the home through prayer and harmony in the home. Parents need to teach their children that they are children of God and that they should pray to Him daily," he said.
The best place for children to learn what is most important in life is in the home "because home is where the most love is found," President Faust said. Parents must teach their children the Lord's plan of happiness and administer discipline through love and righteousness.
President Faust urged parents and children alike to revere the blessings of the priesthood. "By so doing they can help cure some of the cancer that plagues our society and seeps into our families."