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Wednesday Jan 20 Recap Federal Prop 8 Trial

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Heated Wednesday testimony in the federal Proposition 8 trial hinged on a question fundamental to the case, one that Prop. 8 proponents and marriage equality advocates bitterly disagree: Do gays and lesbians have sufficient power to protect themselves in the American political system?

Gary M. Segura, a Stanford University political science professor and expert witness for the plaintiffs in Perry v. Schwarzenegger, testified extensively that despite recent gains that include the election of openly gay politicians like Houston mayor Annise Parker and gay-positive rhetoric from President Barack Obama, gays and lesbians lack a critical mass of meaningful political allies -- in part because they are still a minority despised by many Americans and are attacked by some local and national lawmakers who find it politically advantageous to do so.

Moreover, gays face relentless ballot initiatives aimed at revoking hard-won rights, measures often supported by religious institutions colluding to keep marriage equality off the table, as was the case in California, Segura testified.

During cross-examination, defense attorneys read off a litany of incremental gains for gays over the past decade, attempting to illustrate the power gays wield both as politicians and political donors. Segura countered all such points with stark realities. Cities like Houston that have elected openly gay mayors continue to have laws banning benefits for same-sex spouses (Parker, who was elected in December, cannot get benefits for her partner through the city because a voter blocked such benefits through a referendum). Antigay ballot initiatives and state constitutional amendments banning gay marriage have proliferated across the country in recent years, as have hate crimes committed because of the victim's real or perceived sexual orientation.

What pro-gay laws that have been passed "are attempts to redress discrimination," Segura said. "The purpose is to ameliorate a disadvantage; a wrong that exists. While it's good to have [these laws], it's difficult to conclude that's a measure of political power."

A true LGBT ally, Segura said, is someone who expends political capital for gays, even when it is not politically expedient to do so. Few politicians mentioned in Wednesday's proceedings appeared to fit his description.

Over the repeated and vehement objections of Prop. 8 proponents, plaintiffs' attorney Theodore Boutrous showed several internal communication documents to the court from the Roman Catholic Church and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The exhibits showed the religious groups' extensive financial and organizational support for the ballot measure, passed by a slim majority of California voters in 2008.

U.S. district judge Vaughn Walker overruled the defendants' objections, which centered on their desire to keep the names of certain individuals involved in the Prop. 8 campaign confidential. "This is a political campaign that was out in the open," Walker told defense attorney David Thompson. "The people who advocate on either side, in particular in the litigation that follows, inevitably subject themselves to disclosure of the kind that is contained in [these documents]."

The documents included e-mails form LDS officials who advocated that the church not take a public lead in the campaign but lay the groundwork for fund-raising and an extensive field campaign -- one that reportedly included 20,000 door-to-door volunteers and an organizational point person for every zip code in California.

"Have you ever ... seen this kind of structure deployed [by religious groups] to eliminate fundamental constitutional state rights of a minority group?" Boutrous asked Segura.

"This is new in my experience," Segura replied. The cooperation between Catholic and Mormon churches in the campaign, he continued, "suggests that opposition to homosexuality has been a boost for a ecumenical movement. It's something churches can agree on."

The court also headr testimony from Ryan Kendall, a gay man from Colorado Springs, Colo., who was subjected to "reversal" therapy by the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality for more than a year as a teenager. "At NARTH, I was being told that I had to reject who I was at the most fundamental level because [it] was dirty and bad." Regarding the efficacy of "conversion" therapy, Kendall said "I was just as gay [afterward] as when I started."

Segura's testimony continues Thursday. The plaintiffs expect to rest their case Friday.

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