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Expert Leery of ‘Conversion|Therapy’ in Proposition 8 Trial

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - UC-Davis social psychologist Gregory Herek testified that so-called "conversion therapy" or "sexual orientation change efforts," meant to "convert" homosexuals, have been shown to be "of very limited effectiveness ... and there have been many self-reports that they can cause harm." Herek's testimony on Friday wrapped up expert witness testimony for opponents of Proposition 8.

Herek testified that despite the efforts of political and religious groups that try to turn homosexuals "straight" through so-called "conversion therapy," the putative therapy in some cases causes people to experience extreme anxiety and depression.

"What if a person really wants to change his or her sexual orientation?" asked attorney Howard Nielson, representing proponents of Prop. 8. "Is it impossible?"

"I never like to say anything is impossible," Herek replied. "But we don't have enough experimental studies on [conversion therapy], and there have been many self-reports that they can cause harm."

In his daylong testimony, Herek said that Prop. 8 contributes to the social stigma that homosexuals feel for their inability to marry.

Nielson asked Herek if homosexuals could marry in California.

"Yes, they can marry a person of the opposite sex," Herek answered, to laughter from the courtroom. "But for most, marrying someone of the other sex is not a realistic option."

Herek cited a 2009 American Psychological Association study which found "participants continue to experience same-sex attraction" - in other words, that for gay men and lesbian women, there isn't much choice when it comes to sexual preferences.

In his cross-examination, Nielson reminded the court that plaintiff Sandra Stier had previously been married to a man, and testified that she had felt love and sexual attraction toward him.

But Herek said that like most gay men and lesbian women who had been conditioned by society from birth to be heterosexual, Stier probably didn't realize her true sexual orientation until after the marriage.

"A lot of gay men and lesbians marry someone of the other sex before they realize their sexuality or in the hopes that it would turn them into heterosexuals," Herek said. "But it's likely to create many problems for both the couple and any children they may have."

Herek said lesbians often marry men without realizing until much later their attraction to the same sex, "partly because of the status of women in society and the pressures to marry heterosexually."

"Most people are brought up in society assuming they will grow up to be heterosexual, and growing up with those expectations, many will have heterosexual intercourse before they realize their sexuality."

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