When I left the Mormon Church in 1986, one of the many mixed feelings I experienced was relief that I could be celibate. I fasted and prayed for guidance to decide whether celibacy was something I should pursue as an alternative to marrying a woman. Later, in the summer of 1988, I seriously explored celibacy at a Roman Catholic monastery. One of the things I loved about Catholics was, no pressure to marry. The LDS expectation that I must marry literally drove me to despair and deep depression.
Although I ultimately discerned that celibacy was not a calling for me, my experience at the monastery convinced me that had I felt called to live a celibate lifestyle, living it in the intimate companionship and spiritual community of a monastery would have been the most positive, healthy, life-giving context within which to do it.
Now, twenty years later, we have LDS leaders stating clearly and unequivocally that failure to marry in this life will not prevent us from achieving exaltation in the next life. Furthermore, they have clearly stated that lacking strong sexual attraction to a member of the opposite sex, we are specifically enjoined from marrying. For the first time, Mormons are talking about celibacy.
Technically, Mormons should not use the term celibacy. Celibacy connotes a religious calling, and is more appropriately used in the context in which I explored it. What Mormons are really talking about is life-long abstinence.
But if we are serious about life-long abstinence as a way of life for 3-7% of the population of the Church, just telling people that they can never marry and never be in a same-sex relationship is unlikely to work. Here's why:
1) Marriage and family are central to Mormon theology, practice, and community. We are strongly disinclined by Mormon culture to consider celibacy or abstinence viable.
2) Life-long abstinence sounds fine in theory (especially to people who are happily married). But in practice it means being alone. Friends -- no matter how good, close, and intimate -- can't possibly make up for or fill the place in a person's life that is filled by a soul mate and companion.
I suggest that if we are serious about this, we need a real, bona fide Mormon celibacy, not just the default of life-long abstinence. One way to do this would be to develop a kind of Mormon monasticism. Here's what this would look like for me:
1) Community living. You never have to be alone. You live in community with other men, men you are free to love spiritually and emotionally, to spend quality time with, and to bond intimately but non-sexually with.
2) The context of monastic discipline would help prevent "cheating." It would function on the same principle that is used in Mormon missions to prevent missionaries from straying into sexual sin: 24-hour companionship and supervision, and emotional support to remain true to one's convictions in relation to sexual abstinence.
3) Communities could be organized around service and other mission-oriented goals. This would give people who have made the Herculean sacrifice of life-long abstinence the reward of having a valued calling.
4) You would have to feel "called" to this. It would be unlikely to work if you are joining this as a default, or as a way to run away from your sexuality. You would need to embrace this calling based on positive motivations and on the call of the Spirit.
While this would not work for everyone, providing this option, especially if it were publicly blessed by the Church leadership, would do much to demonstrate a real, practical support for those who are being asked to renounce any possibility of intimate relationships in this life. It would demonstrate that being gay and celibate is nothing shameful, but rather that gay people are seen as having a positive contribution to make to the Church.
I believe that until we provide such options, we will naturally find gay Latter-day Saints bifurcating in two directions. A minority will stick with the Church and will continue to strive for marriage, many entering into marriages when they should not. The majority (perhaps the vast majority) will do what they always have done: drift away from the Church and choose same-sex relationships over their faith.