"I find that extraordinarily ironic for a discipline that prides itself on spirited debate about fundamental issues," Jones said. "You are inviting the erosion of your distinctions if you don't draw some boundaries."
Administrators also are carefully watching court cases related to federal funding and hiring practices, where the government could pull funding if an institution is deemed discriminatory.
Faculty are expected to sign the same covenant as students, and those who advocate for something contrary to the stated beliefs would be called into question, Jones said.
"If a person disagreed with a clear assertion of the covenant, that has implications regardless of their status, even for those who have tenure," Jones said. In faculty applications, he would consider where a professor stands on sexual intimacy as between a man and a woman in marriage, though questions about whether gay marriage should be legal at a state level would not necessarily come up. "We don't ask about their civic views of gay marriage," he said. "I would not be looking for their policies on a governmental policy voting."
On the "Day of Silence" in April 2012, about 90 students wearing white T-shirts printed with "break the silence" attended a campus-hosted discussion about homosexuality, such as whether Wheaton can be considered a "safe place" for gay students. "You are telling LGBTQ students that no matter where they end up on their journey of identity, you care for them, respect them, and will remain their friend," OneWheaton leaders wrote on a sign-up form for students who wanted to wear T-shirts. One alumnus came out to the rest of the group.
Matthews, the student who came out at Wheaton in 2010 -- he now teaches middle school science in Connecticut - wrestles with whether the group OneWheaton will be an effective network since its views are far from the college's stance on sexuality. He said he followed Wheaton's agreement to refrain from premarital sex during school, but his personal views on the morality of homosexuality have shifted.
Matthews was attracted to men when he began college but hoped he would begin liking women.
He considered sexual orientation conversion therapy, which some evangelical Christians embrace but which the American Psychological Association has said is ineffective and could be damaging. After the Episcopal Church ordained its second openly gay bishop in 2010, Matthews began reading more and eventually embraced a theology that suggests gay Christians do not need to be celibate. At one point, he considered becoming an Episcopal priest.
Matthews said Wheaton was a safe place to come out because he could work through both being gay and being a Christian. If he had gone to another college, he said he might have stayed closeted because people might suggest abandoning his faith, something he wasn't willing to relinquish.
"Quite ironically, had I not gone to Wheaton, I might not have come out," Matthews said. "They weren't going to say what I presumed people at other colleges would tell me, which is, 'If you have conflict between your faith and sexuality, drop the faith.' No one at Wheaton was going to tell me that."