Alabama ban on selling sex toys goes into effect
It’s official. You can buy a gun in Alabama but you can’t buy a vibrator.
After nine years of arguing the constitutionality of the law, the state ban on the selling of sex toys will finally go into effect. On Monday, Oct. 1, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear adult-oriented retailer, Sherri Williams’ challenge to the law, thus ending the battle and allowing state law enforcement officers to soon begin making arrests.
The ban is a part of the Anti-Obscenity Enforcement Act, which was originally passed in 1998 in an effort to end nude dancing in parts of Madison County, not to ban sex toys. The act states that the distribution or production of "any device designed or marketed as useful for the stimulation of human genital organs" is prohibited in Alabama.
Once the injunction that has delayed enforcement of the ban has been lifted by Alabama’s Attorney General’s office, violators will face up to a year in prison and a fine of less than $10,000.
Georgia, Texas, Mississippi, Tennessee, Nebraska, Virginia and Utah all have similar bans.
There are a few exemptions to the Alabama law, however. Devices can still be sold if they have "bona fide medical, scientific, educational, legislative, judicial or law enforcement purposes." Law enforcement purposes?
It is these exemptions that will allow for many sexual devices to still be sold.
The owner of a local adult-oriented toy-store, who has been advised by her attorney not to use her name, has been expecting the outcome to be less-than-favorable ever since Williams first went to court. She began making changes to her shop about a year-and-a-half ago, so customers would still be comfortable shopping there were the law to be enacted.
"We didn’t want our customers to think we had to shut down. We wanted them to know we have alternatives. We’re still here and will be there at the last stand," she said. "Until they make us close our doors, we won’t."
These changes involved getting rid of some questionable items, which really turned out to be an issue of aesthetics, not of the actual use of the device. Anything that was marketed on the packaging as a sexual device, or anything that looked, well, real, had to go. When she began the process of making the changes, she sent back $38,000 worth of merchandise to the manufacturers just from the top floor of the store alone.
Although possession of such devices is still legal, the new law will also affect Internet sales and private parties. So if a woman wants a battery-operated friend that actually resembles her husband, she will have to drive to Florida or Louisiana.
According to another local distributor who also prefers to remain anonymous, the new law is only going to bring tax money into surrounding states that don’t have the ban.
"Like the lottery, it’s a moral issue and a religious issue. Everybody’s still doing it, but the money is going elsewhere," she said.
She also added that the law is part of the Anti-Obscenity act, but questioned what is really obscene about it. Everything she sells is sold to adults for the privacy of the home, she said.
"What I do is very pro-marriage and pro-relationship. It’s also pro-women and empowering for women," she said. She plans to continue with her business, selling lingerie, lotions and risqué adult party favors for bachelorette parties. For other items, she will now require her customers to sign a release stating that what they are buying is for medical or educational purposes.
Both retailers agree it is the broadness and ambiguity of the law that makes it unclear as to what can and can’t be sold, as the term sex toy really doesn’t have a clear-cut definition.
"We hired attorneys to come in and look, but even they don’t know what’s legal and what’s not," the storeowner said. "It’s like telling somebody not to run a red light when they’ve never even seen a red light."
Part of owning the store is acting as a sexual health educator. The owner advocates a variety of books and reading materials. However, the new law will prevent her from actually being able to talk about certain things with her customers.
"The store is designed and set up so that in the privacy of your own bedroom you can do what you want to do. But now we can’t legally tell you how to do it, or what not to do," she said. "The state has tied my lips and made me unable to educate my customers. Sexual education is going to become almost criminal."
As a state that is already low on educational standards, it does not bode well with her that another aspect will be even more diminished. She mentioned that most people do not learn about sex in schools or from their parents. They most likely learn about it from someone who is not very well informed. This is the storeowner’s main concern with the new law, as she believes it is part of her job is to help such people.
"I don’t believe sales will suffer. They haven’t so far. People will still have sex," she said, adding that advocates of the law have made claims it won’t affect anyone but the ones selling the items.
The average age of her customers is from 30-45 and is pretty much an equal male-to-female ratio. But the mix of people is significant, in terms of occupation and status. These people will be affected simply by the fact that open discussion of what they are buying will no longer be allowed.
"We’re going to break $1 million in sales this year," the storeowner said, adding, "What does that say about the want or need for the store?"
The fight is still not over. Sherri Williams is planning on going to court once again, this time with the argument based on First Amendment rights. Anyone interested in her lawsuit can see more at www.gopetition.com/petitions/say-no-to-alabamas-sex-toy-ban.html.Source: Trudy Helmsing, lagniappemobile.com