Last edited: December 17, 2004

Alabama’s Sex Toy Ban Is Overturned

The Associated Press, March 29, 1999

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — A federal judge on Monday overturned Alabama’s ban on sex toys, saying the state had no reason to prohibit the sale of the devices.

U.S. District Judge Lynwood Smith of Huntsville found the state’s 1998 law is "overly broad" and in violation of due process rights because it bears no "rational relation to a legitimate state interest."

"We succeeded in kicking the government out of our bedroom," said Sherri Williams, who sells sex devices at stores in Huntsville and Decatur and joined in a suit challenging the new law.

Under the statute, selling or distributing "any obscene material or any device designed or marketed as useful primarily for the stimulation of human genital organs" is a misdemeanor punishable by as much as one year in jail and a $10,000 fine.

The law hasn’t been enforced pending the outcome of the suit.

The law was challenged by Ms. Williams and five other women who either sell the devices or said vibrators are necessary for sexual gratification they cannot get otherwise.

The state attorney general’s office, which could file an appeal, said the ruling is under review.

In his 84-page ruling, Smith wrote that "a majority, or at least a significant minority, of the proscribed devices, as a matter of law, are not obscene under any established definition of obscenity."

He emphasized that people who used the devices would be "denied therapy for, among other things, sexual dysfunction."

The plaintiffs claimed the ban violated privacy rights by indirectly prohibiting adults from engaging in legal acts in their own bedrooms.

However, Smith did not support that argument. Citing Supreme Court precedents, he wrote that "this court refuses to extend the fundamental right of privacy to protect plaintiffs’ interest" in using the sex toys.

Amy Herring, an attorney representing plaintiffs, said her clients would not drop the privacy complaint if an appeal was filed by the state.

She said the judge took a "conservative approach to that issue since the Supreme Court has only gone so far, but it doesn’t mean we’d drop the argument. The Supreme Court could decide to extend the right to privacy."

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