Prop 8 Trial Day 7: Conversion Therapy, Gay Political Power, And The Explosive Mormon Docs

Yesterday was a big day in the federal challenge to Prop 8. It started off an argument to get those amazing video depositions shown in court, moved to the emotional testimony of Ryan Kendall, a 26-year-old gay man who was forced by his family into conversion therapy. From there the trial moved to Political Science Professor Gary Segura who talked about the lack of LGBT political power and Obama’s inaction on key LGBT issues, and then, the “explosive” news came out that the Mormon church actively sought to obfuscate the depth of its involvement in Prop 8.

Let’s get to it!

Shannon Minton writes:

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 . . . It was immediately clear why the Prop 8 proponents had really withdrawn these two expert witnesses — their testimony strongly supported the plaintiffs’ claims, not the defense.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.

Yeah, those videos were eight kinds of awesome.

Then Ryan Kendall testified, and reading the transcripts is heart-wrenching. He was forced into conversion therapy by his religious family. Lisa Leff writes:

Kendall said his parents discovered he was gay as they read his journal when he was 13. He was from a religious family and his mother and father “flipped out,” he said.

“I remember my mother looking at me and telling me I was going to burn in hell,” he testified.

His parents sent him to a private Christian therapist and then a more intensive program run by the National Association for Reparative Therapy of Homosexuality.

During his 18 months in the program, Kendall said he did not believe his sexual orientation could be changed and that hearing from his therapist and his parents that gays were bad people sank him into despair and to the brink of suicide.

“My mother would tell me she hated me,” he said. “Once she told me she wished she had had an abortion instead of a gay son.”

Like I said, heartbreaking. More on this from Minter:

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.

This was ten years ago, not fifty. And congratulations are in order for Kendall for surviving this abuse.

Then Stanford Professor Gary Segura was up, and he gave a nuanced, informed, and blistering testimony: From SF Gate:

At a federal court trial in San Francisco on the constitutionality of Proposition 8, Stanford University Professor Gary Segura cited ballot measures, state and federal laws, hate crime statistics and opinion polls as evidence that gays and lesbians, like racial minorities, need judicial protection from discrimination.

“Gays and lesbians do not possess a meaningful degree of political power. They are not able to protect their essential interests,” said Segura, who heads the university’s Chicano studies program and co-directs its Center on American Democracy.

. . . But Segura said Obama has done nothing to overturn laws denying federal benefits to same-sex couples and allowing the military to discharge openly gay service members . . . “This is not a reliable ally,” Segura said of Obama. “We have to look at the disconnect between rhetoric and action.”

The defense’s David Thompson tried to point out recent political victories for gays and lesbians, but Segura countered, “There is no group in American society who has been targeted by ballot initiatives more than gays and lesbians.”

And, it was during Segura’s testimony that evidence and documents were produced that showed that depth of the Mormon Church’s involvement in Prop 8 and the efforts it took to hide that involvement. Julia Rosen, of the Prop 8 Trial Tracker, writes:

The transcripts from this afternoon read like an episode of Law and Order, with the attorneys arguing with the judge over what documents ought to be introduced as evidence. These aren’t just any old documents, they are emails and letters sent back and forth between the Prop 8 campaign and Catholic, LDS, and Evangelical churches.

For example, one letter indicated that the LDS church had identified a volunteer for the campaign in every single zip code. This was a church document that was in the hands of a Prop 8 campaign official, and thus was discoverable. Andy Pugno, the general council for ProtectMarriage.com tried his darnedest to get Judge Walker to exclude it, but failed. From Rick’s liveblog:

Pugno: Objects because document will be revealing.

Judge: Not to make light of this, but the reason people want to produce documents is that they are revealing.

Boutrous: It’s from an outsider to the core group. We are attempting to show the level of coordination with groups that Protect Marriage says were not even affiliated with the campaign.

This is perhaps the most explosive bit of all, from a document between the LDS Church and 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.

Get that? The LDS Church intentionally worked to hide behind the scenes to disguise their involvement in the public realm.

Lisa Keen adds:

One document indicated that the Mormon Church offered the Protect Marriage campaign 20,000 volunteers to go door-to-door on two Sundays. Another noted that Protect Marriage had the “political and financial” support of Focus on the Family, the Family Research Council, and the Arlington Group—a coalition of right-wing religious-oriented political groups.

There is certain to be all kinds of fallout from this proof of the Mormon Church’s involvement, and I’ll update as more information comes in.

Also, the American Foundation for Equal Rights is now posting daily transcripts of the trial, so if you have the time you can check those out, too.

Finally, today, Thompson will complete his cross of Professor Segura. The final plaintiff witnesses will be Dr. Gregory Herek, an expert on sexual orientation, and William Tam, one of the official sponsors of Prop 8 who had asked to be removed, is being called as a hostile witness.

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