Last edited: March 07, 2005

Alabama Set to Ban Sex Toys

Scripps Howard News Service, February 25, 2005

By Daniel Jackson

The owner of two adult novelty stores in Alabama, said she has only one legal challenge left to the state’s 1998 law banning the sale of sex toys.

If that fails, plaintiff Sherri Williams, owner of Loving Enterprises, said she’ll remove the toys and stock the shelves with legal pornographic videos and DVDs.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court denied her request for a hearing in her lawsuit against the state, but the law will not be enforced pending the final outcome of the case. After seven years of contradictory court decisions, Williams said she was disappointed with the high court’s decision.

“It’s such a roller coaster,” Williams said. “The lower and higher courts don’t agree. One court says the government shouldn’t intrude and one says, ‘yeah, we should.’ “

“Should the day come that I have to yank all the toys out of my store, I’ll just fill it with adult videos. It’s illegal to sell toys, but you can sell porn all day.”

On appeal to the Supreme Court, Williams and the American Civil Liberties Union argued that a ruling in Lawrence v. Texas, which overturned a law banning gay sex, also protects the privacy of people who purchase and use sex toys.

Six other states—Georgia, Mississippi, Indiana, Texas, Louisiana and Virginia—also outlaw the sale of sex toys.

The Alabama law labels the sale of sex toys a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $10,000 and one year in jail. A federal court overturned the law, but the 11th Circuit of Appeals upheld it in a 2-1 ruling last year.

The case now returns to U.S. District Judge Lynwood Smith in Huntsville who originally overturned the law. Williams said she will now seek an answer to a question in a footnote of the appeals court’s decision to uphold the law, which asked, “Should states be allowed to legislate morality?”

Chris Bence, a spokesman for Alabama Attorney General Troy King, said the court should base its decisions on factual application of law, not morality. King has a duty to uphold laws passed by the Legislature, and he will do so, Bence said.

If the law is upheld, King will work with local district attorneys to enforce the law.

“The courts don’t deal with public perceptions. They deal with factual law,” Bence said. “A lot of times, we as citizens applaud the court’s action based on our feelings and moral values. Then a week later, we’ll be criticizing the court.

“In our case, the attorney general does not have the luxury of deciding the importance of laws. It (his oath) requires that he act to defend and enforce all laws properly passed by the Alabama Legislature.”

Sexual devices and adult movies are in a back section of Williams’ stores and are sold discreetly to adult customers, she said. The boutiques, which are in strip malls next to restaurants and other retail stores, have an elegant outward appearance, displaying only tasteful lingerie that is no more obscene than the highly visible displays at Victoria’s Secret stores in almost any mall, Williams said.

“They’re trying to get rid of the back-alley sleazy sort of place,” she said. “I have the most upscale, high-end boutique you’ll ever set foot in. I can’t believe the courts actually believe that states should be allowed to interfere with people’s private decisions.”

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