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Mental health expert testifies on the effects of Prop. 8

January 14, 2010 |  5:10 pm

In an effort to show that Proposition 8 caused harm, lawyers for two same-sex couples presented expert testimony today that the ballot measure represented the kind of prejudice that has made gays and lesbians twice as likely as heterosexuals to suffer mood disorders and substance abuse.

Proposition 8, which resurrected a California ban on same-sex marriage, "sends a message that gay relationships are not respected, that they are of secondary value if they are of any value at all," testified Columbia University Professor Ilan H. Meyer, an expert in mental health issues among gays, lesbians and bisexuals.

Meyer, who teaches in Columbia's public health department, said Proposition 8 also sent a public message that it was OK "to designate gay people as a different class of people in terms of their intimate relationships."

Meyer testified that earlier testimony by the gay and lesbian plaintiffs in the case revealed feelings of anxiety and rejection that are not uncommon among gays and lesbians.

Even something as minor as having to fill out a form that asks if someone is single or married causes stress for gays and lesbians because the absence of a category for their relationships evokes "social disapproval," Meyer said.

He noted that Kristin M. Perry, one of the plaintiffs, had described in her testimony trying to decide every day 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."

He also testified about a federal government report that said gay male adolescents are two to three times more likely to attempt suicide and that gays and lesbian are more vulnerable than heterosexuals to depression and substance abuse.

"Most gay men and lesbians are not disordered, but there is an excess in that population as compared to heterosexuals," he said.

Under cross-examination, Meyer acknowledged that he had contributed to the campaign against Proposition 8. The Proposition 8 lawyer suggested that studies about mental health problems among gays were not definitive.

Therese M. Stewart, who represents the city of San Francisco in the case, said Meyer's testimony was designed to "put discrimination on trial and show the impact on real people."

Proposition 8 "hurt people," Stewart said in a brief interview following Meyer's testimony. "People need to understand that."

—Maura Dolan in the San Francisco federal courthouse

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