Prop 8 Trial Day 7: Getting Religion

Judging that all that has been reported about today’s Prop 8 proceedings, Wednesday was far and away the most compelling day so far. At least if you were the plaintiffs.

Ryan Kendall, who works for a Colorado police department, testified about the ordeal of going through conversion therapy, the efforts to transform gays and lesbians into straights, and in sobering detail explained what went through his head as he was forced by his parents to go through the process lest he be disowned by the family. His own mother had been so repulsed by the thought that he was gay that she told him she wished she had had an abortion.

An expert witness, Gary Segura, a professor of political science at Stanford, testified about the lack of political strength of the gay rights movement, He noted the dozens of ballot initiatives passed across the country restricting same-sex marriage rights and the disproportionate number of hate crimes against gay people as evidence of deep-rooted discrimination in the body politic. In cross examination, Prop 8 proponents showed a portion of President Obama’s speech before the Human Rights Campaign in October as evidence that a national figure was pushing their agenda. But Segura said Obama was “perhaps the best illustration of an ally who cannot be counted on, whose rhetoric far exceeds his actions,” per NCLR’s Shannon Minter. Segura also said that the degree of difference between Obama and George W, Bush is smaller that progressives had expected.
The plaintiffs scored a victory when Judge Vaughn Walker allowed them to present portions of a deposition from two expert witnesses that Prop 8 proponents had planned to use in the case. But they withdrew the witnesses from their list, suggesting that they did not want to be called because of the fears that the proceedings would be broadcast, which they are not. But when the plaintiffs played the tape, each of the witnesses give what amount to be arguments bolstering same-sex marriage, raising suspicions that that was the real motive for withdrawing them as witnesses. In fact, one of the experts, Dr. Paul Nathanson, appears to contradict a central argument of Prop 8 supporters, that children are harmed by being raised by same-sex parents. The transcript of their deposition is here.

The biggest bombshell, however, was the revelation of campaign communication between the Catholic and Mormon churches and the Prop 8 campaign, something that Segura called an “unprecedented” display of inter-religious unity against one group, per the San Jose Mercury News’ Howard Mintz. It’s a key point as plaintiffs try to make their case that gays and lesbians are discriminated against and should get constitutional protection. While it’s no surprise that both churches took substantial roles in passing Prop 8, as gay rights groups have long suspected, this was the first actual proof. In one instance, there is talk of some 20,000 volunteers coming from the Mormon church, along with a huge amount of money.

In a blog post, Andrew Pugno, attorney for, who objected to the disclosure of the documents in court, said that the proceedings “took an ugly turn as religion itself was put on trial.”

And, referring to Kendall’s testimony, he wrote, “What the personal experience of a person from Colorado who experienced
a deeply troubled family life has to do with the constitutionality of
Prop 8 is beyond me. What is clear is that today, however, the
plaintiffs put the role of religion clearly in their sights and are
likely to fire away at the legitimacy of religious and moral views, as
well as the votes and voices of those who hold them.”

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