Achieving LGBT Equality Through Litigation, Legislation, Policy, and Public Education

Views & Analysis

January 20, 2010

NCLR’s Legal Director Shannon Minter on Perry v Schwarzenegger Proceedings, Day 7

Legal_ShannonMinter_photoIt was a phenomenal day in the courtroom, in particular testimony from Ryan Kendall about forced conversion therapy that moved many to tears. We also heard surprising revelations from experts who were supposed to support Prop 8 but whose opinions instead clearly shored up our side. After today, I wish more than ever that the public could be watching the video of this trial – I have truly never seen anything like it. Fortunately, daily transcripts of the trial are now being released with a one day delay and are available on AFER’s website.

The morning began with an argument over whether the court should allow excerpts to be played from the depositions of two of the defense’s expert witnesses, Dr. Paul Nathanson and Dr. Katherine Young.  Before trial, each side submitted a list of the witnesses they expected to call, and the Prop 8 proponents said they would call Dr. Nathanson and Dr. Young as experts. Both experts were deposed prior to trial, and their deposition testimony was recorded. Recently, however, the proponents withdrew both witnesses from testifying, suggesting that the experts had requested not to be called due to fears stemming from the proposed broadcasting of the trial. This morning, the plaintiffs asked to play some of those witnesses’ testimony, and the Prop 8 proponents objected. Judge Walker allowed the evidence in.

It was immediately clear why the Prop 8 proponents had really withdrawn these two expert witnesses — their testimony strongly supported the plaintiffs’ claims, not the defense. Indeed, many in the courtroom appeared to be shocked by how much the defense’s experts sounded like they should have been testifying for the plaintiffs. In particular, Dr. Young testified that: (1) homosexuality is a normal variant of human behavior; (2) there have been sub-traditions of allowing marriage between same-sex couples in a number of cultures; (3) allowing same-sex couples to marry enhances their security and well-being and is good for their children; and (4) studies show that there is no harm to children from being raised by gay parents and there is “no reason to predict harm.”  Dr. Nathanson testified that, in the past, religion has been used to justify discrimination against people based on race and gender in the name of “protecting the family.” This testimony from the Prop 8 proponents’ own witnesses powerfully refutes the defendants’ claims.

The plaintiff’s next witness was Ryan Kendall, a gay man from Colorado who testified about his ordeal with family rejection and forced conversion therapy as a teenager. Kendall’s story expresses everything that this case is about. No human being should be treated by his own family in the way that Kendall was, but it happens to far too many LGBT people — and the arguments made by the proponents of Prop 8, both in the campaign and in this trial, create the conditions that ensure it will happen again and again.

Under skillful direct examination by Ryan Flynn of the San Francisco City Attorney’s Office, Kendall testified that he grew up in a close, loving family in which religious faith played a defining role. But his relationship with his family fell apart at age 13, when his parents found a personal journal in which he had confided that he was gay.  Kendall testified that he was devastated by his parents’ rejecting response – and especially by their telling him he was going to hell.  Kendall described how his mother told him that he was repulsive and disgusting, and that she said that she wished that she had had an abortion or that he had been born with Down’s Syndrome. His parents forced him to enter Christian conversion therapy, first with a local therapist, and then with Joseph Niccolosi, the President of the California-based National Association for Research & Therapy on Homosexuality (NARTH).

Kendall testified that conversion therapy did not work for him — “I knew I was gay, just like I knew that I was short and half-Hispanic.” He also testified that as far as he knew, it did not work for others.  In fact, Kendall recounted an incident that took place when he was in “therapy” with Niccolosi, who introduced him to a young man who allegedly had changed his sexual orientation from gay to straight.  Kendall noted that when Niccolosi left the room, the man told him that he was going to a gay bar that night and that he was just pretending to be straight to please his parents.

At age 16, Kendall testified, he realized that he had to either leave his family or commit suicide, and he turned himself in to the Department of Social Services.  Today, he has accomplished the heroic feat of turning his life around and living proudly as an openly gay man in Colorado, where he works for the police department.

The rest of the day was spent on the testimony of Professor Gary Segura, a professor of political science at Stanford.  Professor Segura explained that the persistence of widespread, deeply rooted anti-gay animosity prevents LGBT people from being able to operate on equal terms in the political arena.  Professor Segura noted the low number of openly LGBT elected officials, and cited data showing that, by a wide margin, the public is more hostile to gay people than to any other minority group.  He also testified that anti-gay violence accounts for 71 percent of all hate-motivated murders and 55 percent of all hate-motivated rapes.

In some of the most dramatic evidence presented to date, Professor Segura commented upon a number of documents that provided a shocking glimpse of just how deeply the Catholic and Mormon churches were involved in supporting Prop 8 and intertwined with the official pro-Prop 8 campaign.   One document sent by the executive director of the Catholic Conference to bishops in California thanked the Catholic Conference for its “unusual” efforts in supporting Prop 8 and applauded the Mormon church for its “financial, organizational, and managerial contributions” to the campaign.  Other documents detailed the Mormon Church’s extensive collaboration with the campaign, including mobilizing more than 20,000 volunteers and coordinating messaging and fundraising.  Professor Segura testified that this level of coordination among powerful religious groups to target a particular group was unprecedented.

David Thompson, an attorney for the proponents, tried hard to undermine Professor Segura’s testimony by confronting Segura with counter-examples – such as a recent speech by President Obama in which he pledged to overturn Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, enact federal employment protections, and support recognition of same-sex relationships.  At every turn, Professor Segura took advantage of the opportunity to deepen and strengthen his analysis.  He described President Obama as “perhaps the best illustration of an ally who cannot be counted on, whose rhetoric far exceeds his actions.”

Thompson will complete his cross of Professor Segura tomorrow, and the plaintiffs will be calling Dr. Gregory Herek, an expert on sexual orientation, and William Tam, one of the official sponsors of Prop 8, as their final witnesses.

Special thanks to my colleagues Christopher Stoll and Melanie Rowen for their input and analysis.  For up to the minute reports on the trial tomorrow, follow NCLR’s live tweeting from the court room at @NCLRights and @Chris_Stoll.

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