Prop 8 trial, Day 9: Testimony over reparative therapy continues

by Roger Brigham
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Friday Jan 22, 2010

The plaintiffs' case wound down Friday with University of California-Davis psychology professor Gregory Herek's testimony that affirmed sexual identity and orientation are not "lifestyle choices" that cannot be effectively altered by harmful intervention or reparative therapies

The trial resumes Monday, when the plaintiffs will introduce some final videotaped evidence and the defense will begin its case. At the start of Friday's session, Chief Judge Vaughn Walker said once all of the evidence had been presented, he would schedule a recess before closing arguments.

"I think it would be more productive if I have the time to go over the evidence that has been submitted before hearing those arguments," he said.

After discussing briefly how homosexuality was removed from professionally recognized lists of mental disorders nearly four decades ago because of the utter lack of empirical data to support the cultural perceptions that had originally placed it there,Herek said studies showed the vast majority of people felt they made no conscious choice to determine their sexual orientation.

Herek further discussed the effectiveness of these therapies that intend to turn people straight.

"I think it's important to think about what we mean by effectiveness," he said. "If what we mean is have interventions consistently shown the outcomes they were intended for with no apparent harm to the individuals., then, no, it has not been found it to be effective."

Herek noted the American Psychological Association passed a resolution in 2009 that "reaffirms its position that homosexuality per say is not a mental disorder and oppose portrayals of sexual minority youths and adults as mentally ill due to their sexual orientation." The APA did not support the use of intervention therapies as being ineffective and potentially hazardous.

Herek said Prop 8 and other legislation that bans marriage for same-sex couples created an "institutional stigma" that harms gays and lesbians.

Some five hours of cross examination followed Herek's direct testimony in which he affirmed that sexual orientation manifests itself for a sustained period in a person's life but is not always lifelong; that women, facing greater societal pressure to marry and have children are more likely than men to marry a person of the opposite gender before they have formulated their sense of sexual identity; and that although researches in different fields use different measurements and definitions in their studies of homosexuality, heterosexuality and bisexuality, society at large has widely accepted, consistent understandings of those identities and individuals tend to have strong senses of their identities.

Saying that "no one in this case is arguing that anyone should be forced to change their sexual identity," attorney Howard Nielson asked Herek whether he thought it was possible for someone to change their identity.

Herek reiterated the lack of reliable evidence to suggest any conversion had actually worked.

"I'd hesitate to say anything is impossible," he added.

Roger Brigham, a freelance writer and communications consultant, is the San Francisco Editor of EDGE. He lives in Oakland with his husband, Eduardo.


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