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Prop. 8 challengers highlight religion's role in campaign

Foes of the gay marriage ban produce documents showing close ties between Catholic and Mormon church leaders and the pro-Prop. 8 campaign.

January 21, 2010|By Maura Dolan

Reporting from San Francisco — Challengers of California's ban on same-sex marriage tried to show Wednesday that religion has promoted discrimination against gays.

Lawyers trying to overturn Proposition 8 presented testimony of a gay man who said his evangelical parents forced him into Christian therapy to change his sexuality, and the legal team later produced documents that showed close ties between leaders of the Catholic and Mormon churches and the Proposition 8 campaign.

Ryan Kendall, 26, who grew up in an evangelical Christian family in Colorado, said his parents forced him to undergo therapy with a Christian group to try to change his sexual orientation. The therapy made him suicidal but did not change his sexuality, he testified.

"I was just as gay as when I started," Kendall testified.

Kendall, a Denver resident, testified tearfully about how his mother abused him after learning of his sexuality from reading his journal. He said he was the target of slurs and his glasses were smashed when he was a student at an evangelical school.

Attorneys challenging Proposition 8 also presented videotaped testimony from two experts on religion who had been retained by the measure's defenders. The experts have since withdrawn from the case.

The experts agreed under questioning that some churches have contributed to discrimination against gays and that religion also has been used to justify discrimination against African Americans and women.

David Boies, a lawyer for the challengers who questioned the experts, ended the video presentation with a question about whether some state laws were based on religion.

"No," said Katherine Young, a religious studies professor at McGill University, "because you have the doctrine of separation of church and state."

Documents unveiled later revealed the Catholic and Mormon churches played a major role in passing Proposition 8.

An e-mail from the executive director of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to the bishops and a cardinal said Catholics were crucial in providing money and volunteers to qualify Proposition 8 for the ballot.

The e-mail also praised the Mormon Church, saying it had provided "financial, organizational and management contributions" for the measure.

A memo by a Mormon Church public affairs officer said the Proposition 8 campaign was "entirely under priesthood direction," and the minutes of a Mormon Church meeting said members should not take the lead in promoting Proposition 8 but should work through protectmarriage.com.

The church document said a teleconference had been held in Salt Lake City with 159 of 161 Mormon leaders in California. The leaders were told to encourage members to contribute $30 each for Proposition 8, toward a projected goal of $5 million, in addition to general fundraising.

Andy Pugno, a lawyer for the Proposition 8 campaign, said in an interview that it was "astonishing" that the court allowed into evidence internal communications of churches.

"Today has been a major expression of religious bigotry," Pugno said of Wednesday's testimony. "The gloves have clearly come off, and religious voters are in the cross-hairs."

maura.dolan@latimes.com

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