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A Stanford professor who said homosexuals lack political power and a gay man who said conversion therapy made him suicidal took the stand at a same-sex marriage trial in San Francisco today.
Stanford political science professor Gary Segura and Denver resident Ryan Kendall testified on behalf of two same-sex couples on the seventh day of the trial before U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker.
The couples claim in a civil rights lawsuit that California’s ban on same-sex marriage, enacted by voters as Proposition 8 in 2008, violates their federal constitutional rights to due process and equal protection.
The case, which will be decided by Walker without a jury, is the nation’s first federal trial on a U.S. constitutional challenge to restrictions on gay marriage.
Segura, an expert on the political power or lack of power of minority groups, told Walker that in the United States, “Gays and lesbians do not possess a meaningful degree of political power.
“They are not able to protect their basic interests and effectuate them into law. They simply don’t have the numbers and resources to play a part in the political arena,” Segura said.
Kendall, 26, testified that sexual orientation conversion therapy his parents forced him to undergo as a teenager made him “a 16-year-old kid who had lost everything” and caused him to feel suicidal, but didn’t change his homosexuality.
“I knew I was gay. I knew I could not be changed,” he said.
Both witnesses’ testimony bears on the plaintiffs’ claim that gay rights deserve the highest level of legal protection because homosexuals lack political power and have suffered discrimination on the basis of a characteristic–their sexual orientation – that most of them cannot change.
The sponsors of Proposition 8 and their campaign committee, ProtectMarriage.com, who are defending the initiative at the trial, contend that gays and lesbians are now politically powerful and that “many people freely choose their sexual orientation.”
Later in the trial, the Proposition 8 sponsors will present their own witness, assistant government professor Kenneth Miller of Claremont McKenna College, to assert the view that gays and lesbians have political power.
Kendall, who works for the Denver Police Department and is a member of Log Cabin Republicans, grew up in Colorado Springs, Colo.
He testified that his parents forced him to undergo conversion therapy beginning at age 13, first with a Christian therapist and then with phone calls and visits to the Encino-based National Association of Research and Therapy of Homosexuality.
He said the therapists told him he was “dirty and bad” and that he become “incredibly suicidal” until state social workers initiated proceedings to revoke his parents’ custody rights when he was 16.
Under cross-examination by Proposition 8 attorney James Campbell, Kendall admitted he had never read a scientific study on sexual orientation.
Asked whether some people voluntarily seek out conversion therapy, Kendall said, “That’s not my experience.”
He said that his therapy group leader in Encino presented a man named Kelly as a “perfect patient” who had successfully become heterosexual.
But once when the group leader was out of the room, Kendall said, Kelly told him that he was going to a gay bar that night and was just pretending to have changed his orientation for his family’s sake.
“This just confirmed that (therapy) could not be effective for me,” Kendall said.
Segura testified that homosexuals have been “subject to political exclusion and suffered political disabilities great than any other groups,” such as racial minorities, who were granted the highest level of legal protection.
Nationwide, Segura said, “There is no group in American society that has been targeted in ballot initiatives more than gays and lesbians,” with undocumented immigrants a distant second.
“Initiatives have been used to roll back gains by gays and lesbians over and over again, he said.
Segura said measures affecting gay rights have been the subject of more than 150 state and local ballot initiatives since the 1970s and that homosexuals have lost 70 percent of those votes.
The measures included successful initiatives to restrict same-sex marriage in 33 states, including Proposition 8 in California, he said.
During cross-examination by Proposition 8 attorney David Thompson, Segura said he donated money to oppose the initiative and agreed that no state provides more protections for gays and lesbians than California.
Asked whether the Obama administration is a better ally to gays and lesbians than the former Bush administration, Segura answered, “I agree, but the degree of difference is far smaller than most progressive voters anticipated.”
Thursday’s court session in Walker’s Federal Building courtroom will begin with continued cross-examination of Segura.
The trial is expected to end by the middle of next week.