Wednesday, during the federal trial to
decide the constitutionality of Proposition 8, a judge heard from a
man who was forced to undergo so-called conversion therapy to remove
his attraction to other men.
On the seventh day of the trial in San
Francisco, Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn R. Walker heard testimony
from Ryan Kendall, a twenty-six-year-old Colorado man who said he
considered suicide after being forced to attend conversion therapy.
“First hand experience to illustrate
points that have been raised is very helpful,” Walker answered in
response to Proposition 8 lawyer's objections to the witness. Lawyer
James Campbell had told the court that such “memories” of
conversion therapy are “unreliable, unhelpful for serious
On the stand, Kendall told Walker that
he was aware of this sexual orientation at an early age. At his
parents reading a journal where he admits to being gay, he said, “My
parents flipped out.”
“I remember my mother looking at me
and telling me I was going to burn in hell,” he said.
Between 14 and 16 years old, Kendall
was forced to attend group therapy from the National Association for
Research & Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH), a group that
believes sexual orientation can be altered.
Turning to the Department of Social
Services, Kendall severed his parent's parental rights at 16.
“I was a 16-year-old kid who had just
lost everything he ever knew. I was very lost,” he said. The
experience left him contemplating suicide, he said.
In the cross-examining, Campbell seized
on the fact that Kendall was an unwilling subject: “Your goal was
to survive the experience. Your goal wasn't to decrease your sexual
attraction.” Kendall agreed. But Campbell failed to draw out
testimony of a successful reorientation.
In other testimony, the court heard
from Professor Gary Segura, a political scientist at Stanford
University, who testified on the relatively limited political power
of gay men and lesbians.
“Gays and lesbians lack sufficient
power to protect themselves in the political system,” Segura said,
then added that women in the 70s enjoyed greater political clout.
Being a woman isn't “inherently controversial,” he said.
David Thompson, a lawyer for
Proposition 8, disagreed with Segura's conclusions. He ticked off a
list of gay political figures – California Assembly leader John
Perez, Houston Mayor Annise Parker – and “reliable political
allies” on gay issues – the ACLU, unions, Barbara Boxer and
“I think President Obama is the best
illustration of an ally who cannot be counted on, whose rhetoric far
exceeds his actions,” Segura said.
As with previous witnesses, Thompson
attempted to discredit Segura as a sympathizer, asking him if he
donated to the campaign against Proposition 8. He answered “yes.”
Judge Walker also allowed the
introduction of numerous internal documents between various
organizations that supported passage of the gay marriage ban over
intense objections from the defense. Included in the documents are
controversial Mormon Church emails. In one email, church officials
acknowledge they have 20,000 volunteers supporting Proposition 8.
And for the first time, the communications reveal that the church
actively attempted to hide its involvement in the campaign: “With
respect to Prop. 8 campaign, key talking points will come from
campaign, but cautious, strategic, not to take the lead so as to
provide plausible deniability or respectable distance so as not to
show that church is directly involved.”
The trial resumes Thursday.