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Bias raises gays' risk of mental disorders, witness at Prop. 8 trial says

Professor says the same-sex marriage ban sent 'the message that gay relationships are not respected, that they are of secondary value if they are of any value at all.'

January 15, 2010|By Maura Dolan

Reporting from San Francisco — The legal team challenging Proposition 8 in a federal trial tried to show Thursday that the ballot initiative was a form of bias that was likely to make gays and lesbians more vulnerable to mental health problems.

Columbia University professor Ilan H. Meyer, an expert in mental health issues among gays, lesbians and bisexuals, testified that gays and lesbians were more likely to suffer from mental disorders than heterosexuals because of discrimination.

Proposition 8 sent "a message that gay relationships are not respected, that they are of secondary value if they are of any value at all," Meyer said. He also said the 2008 measure made the public statement that it was OK "to designate gay people as a different class of people in terms of their intimate relationships."

Lawyers for two same-sex couples challenging the federal constitutionality of the gay marriage ban said Meyer's testimony was designed to show that Proposition 8 harmed a minority that has long suffered discrimination.

Meyer testified that testimony by the plaintiffs during the trial demonstrated they have experienced harmful effects of bias.

He discussed remarks made by Kristin M. Perry, a lead plaintiff, that every day she wrestled with whether to conceal her sexual orientation at soccer games, parent-teacher association meetings, stores and elsewhere.

Perry testified that the constant worry that someone might react hostilely to her sexuality was "exhausting."

"The word 'exhausting' jumped out at me," Meyer testified. "It has a special meaning in stress research."

Meyer said concealment of one's sexual orientation for fear of rejection was "damaging and stressful" and testified about a federal government report that said gay male adolescents were two to three times more likely than heterosexual teens to attempt suicide.

The report also said that gays and lesbians were more vulnerable than heterosexuals to mood disorders and substance abuse.

Although most gays and lesbians do not have mental disorders, they are disproportionately affected by them, he said.

Under cross-examination, Meyer acknowledged that he had contributed to the campaign against Proposition 8.

He was asked whether gays and lesbians in Massachusetts, where gay marriage has been legal since 2004, suffer fewer mental disorders than gays in other states. Meyer said he did not know and noted that his and others' research has been national.

Therese M. Stewart, chief deputy San Francisco city attorney and a member of the legal team fighting Proposition 8, said Meyer's testimony was designed to "put discrimination on trial and show the impact on real people."

Earlier in the day, a San Francisco economist testified that same-sex weddings would generate more than $35 million in annual spending in San Francisco and produce millions of dollars in additional tax revenue.

Edmund Egan, chief economist for the city and county of San Francisco, said he based his short-term projections on the revenue generated by more than 5,000 same-sex weddings in San Francisco during the five months in 2008 when gay marriage was legal.

During cross-examination, a lawyer for the Proposition 8 campaign suggested that the number of same-sex weddings in 2008 reflected "a pent-up demand" and would drop as time passed. The lawyer also elicited testimony that Egan's projections were only for "several years."

Lawyers challenging Proposition 8 expect to wrap up their case Wednesday.

The Proposition 8 campaign will then call witnesses to testify about historical and religious implications of marriage.

maura.dolan@latimes.com

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