But ultimately Ehrhart believes that separation of church and state is exactly what makes any pro-gay objection to the SSO system null and void: He points out that it would be unconstitutional to bar religious organizations from the tax benefit to which they are legally entitled just because of something they believe. What does he himself believe about homosexuality? "I mean, I sit in church every Sunday with people who sin in all kinds of different ways. It's not mine to judge."
At the end of what should have been his senior year, Noah decided to go to what would have been his high school graduation. Once he arrived at the church where it was held, he pulled out his phone and pretended to text so that he wouldn't have to make eye contact with anyone. It felt so awkward to be there, surrounded by people who had rejected him, and yet he needed to see it, to imagine what might have been. He took a seat in a pew as the ceremony started. "Everyone's got blue graduation robes," he says wistfully. "I was really depressed, honestly, but I was glad that I went. It gave me some sense of closure, I guess, to be able to say, 'So this is what it would have looked like had I walked across the stage.'"
Part of him now feels that withdrawing from his high school was cowardly, that he should have held his ground, stood up to the administration and forced them to actually expel him. Then again, the end result was the same, and however it happened, the matter helped him to embrace his sexuality, to publicly own it. He stares down at the silver promise ring his boyfriend gave him, engraved with Roman numerals to symbolize the passage of time. He hopes one day they'll get married, even if they can't do so in Georgia.
No longer a liability, his sexuality now helps ground him, even guide him. He is currently the finance director for the campaign of a local Democrat. And in May, he finally got to wear a cap and gown when he graduated from Mercer University, where he majored in gender studies and was president of Common Ground, the school's gay-straight alliance. When I last saw him, it was during the anticipation of finally having a graduation ceremony of his own. "I'm going to put on my robe, I'm going to wear my hat, I'm going to walk across the stage, and it's going to be the most meaningful experience of my life," he says. "And everyone I love is going to be there, and I'm completely honest about who I am, and everyone in that audience knows who I am. Everyone knows that I'm gay, and they're all OK with it."
This story is from the October 10th, 2013 issue of Rolling Stone.
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