By LISA LEFF, Associated Press
SAN FRANCISCO -- Gay men and lesbians are a politically unpopular and relatively powerless force in the United States, even though the public tends to think otherwise, a political scientist testified Wednesday during a historic trial on the constitutionality of California's same-sex marriage ban.
Stanford University professor Gary M. Segura cited hate crime statistics, anti-gay remarks by elected officials, the relatively low number of gay office holders nationwide, and the success rate of ballot initiatives such as California's Proposition 8 to argue that gays do not possess a meaningful degree of political power.
"By any measure, gays and lesbians would have to be understood as a minority faction," Segura said. "People who accept the normativity of heterosexuality have held power essentially forever."
Lawyers for two same-sex couples suing to overturn Proposition 8 - California's gay marriage ban - called Segura to the witness stand to buttress their argument that gays are a disadvantaged group that deserves the same protections from discrimination afforded other vulnerable minorities under the U.S. Constitution.
Segura said Proposition 8 was part of a chain of ballot box defeats for the gay rights movement dating back to the 1970s, including 33 of the 33 measures dealing with marriage.
Attorney Charles Cooper, who is representing Proposition 8 sponsors, argued in his opening statement that gays enjoy substantial political power as evidenced by the array of political officials and labor and religious groups that opposed Proposition 8.
That measure was motivated not by "ill-will nor animosity toward gays and lesbians, but special regard for the institution of marriage," he said.
Earlier Wednesday, a gay Colorado man testified that the "reversal therapy" he underwent as a teenager to change his sexual orientation drove him to the brink of suicide.
Ryan Kendall of Denver was called to the witness stand to demonstrate that a person's sexual orientation cannot usually be changed.
Kendall said the therapy he tried at the insistence of his parents did nothing to turn him into a heterosexual.
"I was just as gay as when I started," he said.
James Campbell, a lawyer for the ban's sponsors objected to Kendall being allowed to testify, saying it was irrelevant to the legal issues in the case.
Kendall said his parents discovered he was gay as they read his journal when he was 13.
"I remember my mother looking at me and telling me I was going to burn in hell," he testified.
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.
Campbell cross-examined Kendall gently, asking if he ever believed the therapy could help, since he had been forced to go by his parents.
"Your only goal for conversion therapy was to survive the experience, is that true?" Campbell asked.
"Very true," Kendall answered.