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Gays vulnerable at ballot box, professor argues at Prop. 8 trial

January 21, 2010 | 12:44 pm

A Stanford political scientist insisted under cross-examination today that gays and lesbians are politically vulnerable, particularly at the ballot box.

Gary M. Segura, a Stanford professor of American political science, has testified that voters have supported 70% of ballot measures to strip gays of rights in elections across the U.S. during the last 15 years. He said there was no other group that has been so targeted by voters.

Segura testified that FBI statistics show that hate crimes against gays and lesbians have held steady during the last five years and even rose in 2008. He also cited opinion surveys that he said show that many people hold gays in low regard.

"Gays and lesbians lack the power necessary to protect themselves in the political system," Segura concluded.

The issue of discrimination goes to the question of how much constitutional protection gays should receive. If opponents of Proposition 8 can show the 2008 ballot measure was motivated by animus, the law would be invalid.

Segura testified that gays today have less political power than women had in the 1970s because women represented the majority of the population but gays are a small minority.

He further suggested that African Americans may have been less disadvantaged before civil rights laws than gays are today. Constitutional protections existed back then to protect people from racial discrimination, even though laws weren't enforced, Segura said.

David H. Thompson, a lawyer defending Proposition 8, challenged that contention, citing the few women and African Americans who were elected to Congress and the Senate in the past.

He also elicited an admission from Segura that gays in California now face less social and economic discrimination than African Americans experienced before the civil rights movement.

In response to statements from Segura that some religions have promoted discrimination against gays and lesbians, Thompson noted that religious people often vote according to their religious beliefs.

"Mr. Thompson, have you switched sides?" Segura asked. "Yes, I think that is correct."

Thompson also observed that 48% of people who never attend church supported Proposition 8, and that opponents of Proposition 8 raised more money than supporters.

A spokeswoman for the defenders of Proposition 8, listening to the testimony, scoffed at the notion that gays were politically powerless.

Challengers of the marriage ban presented evidence that the leadership of the Roman Catholic Church, the Church of Latter-day Saints and Christian evangelicals were extremely active in the campaign to approve the marriage ban.

"There are more gays in California than Mormons," said Carla Hass, the spokeswoman. Reports indicate there are about 756,000 Mormons in the state and 1.3 million gays and lesbians.

-- Maura Dolan at the San Francisco federal courthouse