Justin Lee grew up with the notion of saving sex for marriage. When he realized he was gay, that could have thrown a wrench into his plans...

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Justin Lee grew up with the notion of saving sex for marriage. When he realized he was gay, that could have thrown a wrench into his plans.

But with a growing acceptance of gay relationships inside and outside the gay community, and even a movement to recognize them legally, he knows it’s a viable option to wait.

There are no hard numbers, but gays and lesbians aren’t precluded from a recent surge among people choosing pre-marriage chastity. They aren’t necessarily holding themselves back until states start granting licenses to same-sex couples, though.

“When I talk about waiting for marriage, I’m talking about marriage in a religious sense,” says the 29-year-old executive director of the Gay Christian Network, a national group based in Raleigh, N.C. “I’m not waiting for Uncle Sam to give me a piece of paper so I can have sex.”

Even so, the trend toward civil unions and marriage for same-sex couples might encourage some people to wait, those in the know say.

“I think for those folks that embrace or adopt a traditional marriage-first attitude,” it’s more likely, says Steven James, an associate academic dean at Vermont’s Goddard College and founder of the school’s sexual orientation concentration in psychology and counseling.

In the days before the 1969 Stonewall riots, a turning point in the gay civil-rights movement, the gay identity revolved around sex, and lots of it, Lee says.

“To suggest that you could be gay and not be having sex still seems to some people to be a contradiction in terms,” he says.

But now, with role models pervading entertainment and politics, gays and lesbians see a new world of options for how they live their lives.

“The Internet has made a huge difference in creating a movement,” Lee says. “What at first might have seemed a little fringe group is then able to gain momentum as people meet others and discover they’re not alone.”

Lee’s network, an affiliation of gay and lesbian Christians from across the country, has a “Waiting Until Marriage” group with 90 to 100 members, says the group’s leader, Steve Rice, a massage therapist from Omaha, Neb.

Religion may not be the motivator for all gay people who are saving themselves for marriage. The risk of sexually transmitted diseases and a sense of belonging can also encourage chastity, James says.

For Rice, though he was brought up in a Christian home, the choice goes beyond religion.

“At this point it’s more than just a morality issue to me,” the 30-year-old says. “I want a committed relationship in my life, and I want that kind of stability, and I want that relationship to be a strength in my life. I made a personal decision that I would wait for that relationship.”

And while some gay virgins might seek a feeling of belonging, it can be hard to find.

Ben F., a 25-year-old gay man who spoke on the condition that his last name not be used because he fears losing his job at a faith-based nonprofit, recalled a picnic during which his friends were discussing who had slept with whom. He spoke up.

“It was an awkward moment,” he says. “Several of the guys, their forks dropped out of their hands and hit their plates.”

Most people have sex solely for self-gratification, Ben says, something he calls “a defilement of the sanctity of sex. Because I think it’s actually an act of love.”

And he’s willing to keep waiting.

“I’m actually hoping to find a guy that I will fall in love with.”