By Carol Ness
San Francsico Examiner
A gay Mormon man, whose anguish over the conflict between his homosexuality and his faith was intensified by his church's all-out push for Proposition 22, took his own life on the steps of a Mormon church in Los Altos.
Stuart Matis, who would have turned 33 Thursday, was remembered Wednesday night in a memorial held in a Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Santa Clara, where he lived with his parents.
In his suicide note read at the memorial, Matis said he has been anguished about his homosexuality since he first realized he was different at age 7. He prayed that he would be changed, but eventually gave up hope.
"I am now free," Matis wrote. "I am no longer in pain and I no longer hate myself. As it turns out, God never intended for me to be straight. Perhaps my death might become the catalyst for some good."
Matis also urged his parents Marilyn and Fred Matis to use him as an example to teach other church members "the true nature of homosexuality."
Although his note didn't mention it, Matis' suicide prompted some Mormons who oppose Prop. 22 to blame their church's deep involvement in the issue.
The tragedy came in the last days of an increasingly heated campaign over Prop. 22, also called the Knight initiative, on next Tuesday's ballot. It would strengthen state laws against gay marriage. The Mormon Church has been a zealous campaigner for the measure, pressing its members from the pulpit and in private for almost a year to contribute their money and time to its passage.
Police found Matis dead, a gunshot wound to the head, at 7:36 a.m. Friday, outside a Mormon church on Grant Avenue that serves as the LDS center for the Los Altos area, according to the Santa Clara coroner.
Suicide note on bed
Authorities had been alerted by his parents, who had found a suicide note on his bed.
Matis' family disagreed that the death had any connection to the Mormon Church and Prop. 22. And a counselor who knew Matis well cautioned that any decision to commit suicide comes from a place so deep in the soul that there can be no single, simple reason.
"Our son's death had no relationship to Prop. 22 whatsoever," said a woman who answered the phone at Matis' home Wednesday but would not identify herself and refused further comment other than to add: "We feel invaded at a very private time of our life."
After Wednesday night's memorial, a family friend read a statement from the Matis family asking that their son's death not be used for political gain.
"Adding to the tragedy of the event, there are those who would create political ramifications from this," the statement said. "The family sincerely requests that the exemplar life of this good and well-respected young man not become fodder for anyone's campaign or forum."
But Jeanie Mortensen-Bessamo, a Simi Valley Mormon who disagrees with her church's advocacy of Prop. 22 and had been corresponding with Matis by e-mail, said in an e-mail Wednesday, "Stuart Matis was indeed a casualty of Prop. 22."
Mortensen-Bessamo said she had spoken with Matis' mother Tuesday night, and learned that "his suicide note spoke clearly of his struggle, particularly the last few months while watching the battle regarding Prop. 22."
"He hoped that his death would become a catalyst for fruitful education of the members and leaders of the LDS church regarding the homosexuality and the homophobia that exists in the church and society," wrote
Mortensen-Bessamo. "His death was his final statement on the need for change."
Letter to cousin
In the months before his death, Matis wrote in a long, passionate letter to his cousin about the agony suffered by gay and lesbian Mormons, because of church teachings against homosexuality. And he wrote about the added burden of his church's advocacy of Prop. 22.
"The church has no idea that as I type this letter, there are surely boys and girls on their calloused knees imploring God to free them from this pain," he wrote to his cousin in the letter. It was posted on the Internet by Mortensen-Bessamo, who was thrown out of the church for living with the man who became her husband and is now on her way to rejoining.
'They hate themselves'
"They hate themselves. They retire to bed with their finger pointed to their head in the form of a gun," Matis wrote. "The church's involvement in the Knight initiative will only add to the great pain suffered by these young gay Mormons."
Robert Rees, a Mormon Church leader in the Santa Cruz area who had counseled Matis and spoke at Wednesday night's memorial, called him "one of the most outstanding men that I've met in my life. He was a person of unusual personal integrity and strength of character.
"I have been very despondent because it's such a loss," said Rees, who is also a professor of literature at UC-Santa Cruz.
He said Matis, until recently an employee of the Arthur Anderson accounting firm, first spoke with him in November. Gay and lesbian Mormons often seek Rees out because of his experience leading a congregation of single Mormons in Los Angeles for five years.
"I think there's no question that he was deeply conflicted, as many people are, between his identity and his faith," Rees said. He said Matis remained faithful both to his identity and to his church's requirement that he not act on his sexual orientation.
Conflict 'too exquisite'
"I think the conflict for Stuart became too exquisite," Rees said.
He said Matis knew early on he was gay, but lived through the typical cycle of denial and repression before facing up to it in the last few years. He told his parents about a year ago, and they grew to support him, and he was becoming more comfortable with himself, Rees said. But still, his anguish over the conflict with his church grew.
"Any time somebody is in that much pain, there's always the possibility that they will choose the ultimate act," Rees said. He cautioned against simplistic explanations, saying, "Anyone's suicide is so complex and so personal that no one can attach any responsibility to any one person or event. To attach blame to the church or Prop. 22 is fruitless. No one can know the private deep inner workings of anyone's soul."
Yes on 22 campaign manager Rob Stutzman said the campaign had no comment on Matis' problems with his church's support of Prop. 22.
Of Mortensen-Bessamo's description of Matis as a "casualty of Prop. 22," he said, "We would hope opponents would not manipulate this obvious private family tragedy for political purposes."
No on Knight spokesperson Tracey Conaty said, "We didn't know Stuart, so it doesn't seem appropriate for us to comment on this tragedy."
A second service for Matis was to be held Thursday in Orem, Utah, where he was to be buried.
Ray Delgado of The Examiner staff contributed to this report.