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Witness: Being gay not a choice

Trial challenges marriage ban

By Lisa Leff
Associated Press / January 23, 2010

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SAN FRANCISCO - A social psychologist testified yesterday in a trial challenging California’s gay marriage ban that leading mental health associations stopped thinking of homosexuality as a mental illness decades ago.

Lawyers for two same-sex couples suing to overturn the voter-enacted ban called University of California at Davis researcher Gregory Herek as an expert witness to bolster their argument that sexual orientation cannot be easily changed.

Herek said leading mental health groups also take a dim view of therapies aimed at making people heterosexual.

The point is central to the plaintiffs’ effort to show that gays deserve the same judicial protection as racial and ethnic minorities. The trial, in its ninth day, is the first in a federal court to consider whether state bans on gay marriages are unconstitutional.

Chief US Judge Vaughn Walker said he would delay closing arguments for two weeks after the defense rests so he can review the testimony.

Herek said he recently conducted a survey asking people if they decided to be gay, lesbian, or bisexual. Eighty-eight percent of the gay men who responded said they had no choice. The figure was 68 percent for lesbians.

“The vast majority of lesbians and gay men and bisexuals as well, when asked how much choice they felt they have . . . say they have experienced no choice or very little choice about that,’’ Herek said.

Herek also said it’s clear that gay men and lesbians are looked down upon because of longstanding social stigmas.

“If two men were to walk down the street holding hands in many places, that would elicit a great deal of negative reaction, and that is an example of the stigma that everyone knows lesbians and gay men experience because they are gay,’’ he said.

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