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Prop 8 trial witness: Being gay not a choice

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SAN FRANCISCO (AP) " A social psychologist testifying in a trial challenging California's gay marriage ban says leading mental health associations stopped thinking of homosexuality as a mental illness decades ago.

Lawyers for two same-sex couples suing to overturn the voter-enacted ban called University of California, Davis researcher Gregory Herek as an expert witness Friday to bolster their argument that sexual orientation cannot be easily changed. He says the leading mental health groups also take a dim view of therapies aimed at making people heterosexual.

The point is central to their effort to show that gays deserve the same judicial protection as racial and ethnic minorities.

The trial, now in its ninth day, is the first in a federal court to consider whether state bans on gay marriages are unconstitutional.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) " Lawyers for two couples challenging California's ban on same-sex marriage plan to wrap up their case Friday following the incendiary testimony of a proponent who said he thinks gays are more likely to be pedophiles and that allowing them to wed would lead to the legalization of polygamy and incest.

Hak-Shing William Tam of San Francisco spent five hours testifying Thursday as a hostile plaintiffs' witness to prove that bias toward gays fueled the 2008 campaign to pass the voter-approved measure, known as Proposition 8.

Tam, who was one of five people who signed on as official proponents of the ban and whose names appeared alongside ballot arguments for Proposition 8, acknowledged that he subscribes to beliefs about an alleged link between homosexuality and pedophilia posted on the Internet by a Chinese-American Christian group for which he serves as secretary.

"Do you believe that homosexuals are 12 times more likely to molest children?" attorney David Boies asked.

"Yeah, based on the different literature that I have read," Tam replied.

Earlier in the trial, a Cambridge University professor testified that there is no evidence to suggest that gays are more likely to molest children than heterosexuals. Boies pressed Tam to cite books, articles or authors he had read to substantiate the views, but Tam said he could not remember specifics.

Others involved in promoting Proposition 8 have tried to distance themselves from Tam. During a news conference outside court, lawyer Andy Pugno, a lawyer for the coalition of religious and conservative groups that backed the measure, said Tam had "next to nothing" to do with the campaign.

Tam testified that he spent a lot of time working on the campaign and communicated with its leaders but modestly added he did not consider himself a major player. He said became an official proponent because of his concern that legalizing same-sex marriage would encourage young people to pursue gay partners.

"I think it is very important that children won't grow up to fantasize or think about should I marry Jane or John when I grow up, because this is very important for Asian families."

Under questioning by Boies, Tam also said he agreed with a statement on the Web site for the Chinese-American Christian group that said if same-sex marriage was treated as a civil right, "so would pedophilia, polygamy and incest."

"And that is what you were telling people in encouraging them to vote for Proposition 8?" Boies asked.

"Yes," Tam answered.

Tam said he drew that conclusion after reading an Internet article that claimed incest and polygamy were legal in the Netherlands, a country where same-sex marriages became legal in 2001.

Boies: You are saying here that after same-sex marriage was legalized, the Netherlands legalized incest and polygamy?"

Tam: "Yeah, look at the date, Polygamy happened afterward.

"Who told you that? Where did you get that idea," Boies asked incredulously.

"It's the Internet," he said. "Another person in the organization found it and he showed me it ... I looked at the document and I thought it was true."

Polygamy is not legal in the Netherlands, but the idea that it is became an urban myth of sorts in 2005 after a man and two women signed a private "cohabitation contract" while wearing wedding garb. Consensual incest between adults is no longer prosecuted in the Netherlands, but close relatives are not allowed to wed.

Under cross-examination from Nicole Moss, a lawyer for Proposition 8's sponsors, Tam said the opinions expressed on the Web site were his own and had not been approved by, the organization that ran the campaign, or submitted to its strategists for review.

"At any time during the campaign phrase or any phase for Proposition 8 did you have a role in drafting the official message for" Moss asked.

"No," Tam answered, adding that his contact with the campaign's staff was minimal. "I was acting independently."

Shortly before Tam left the witness stand, Boies asked him if he had spoken to his lawyer during a five-minute break in his testimony. Tam said he had.

"I said I felt like naughty boy being put in front of a classroom and being mocked at," he said.

Plaintiffs lawyers expect to rest their case on Friday with testimony from a University of California, Davis psychologist who is scheduled to talk about prejudice against lesbians and gay men.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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