Last week, Governor Gary R. Herbert signed a resolution which declared porn a public health crisis in the state of Utah. This latest authoritarian move by anti-porn moralists has been defended by Utah state Senator Todd Weiler who said, “This isn’t just a religious moral issue. Some people want to make this about sex education; no boy or girl needs to see those images to learn how families are created.” And while we may agree that porn is not meant as a form of sex education, Sen. Weiler makes it clear by his statement that his views are indeed clouded by his religious views which see sex only as a way to create families.
The problem isn’t Sen. Weiler’s, Gov. Herbert’s, or any of the other anti-porn moralist crowd’s personally held convictions; it’s their right to believe in whatever religious or personal moral code they wish to. The problem lies in their attempts at the use of authoritarian power to enforce their personal morals on the rest of society. Now don’t be confused, this resolution is in no way legally binding nor does it create any new laws or restrictions. In effect, at the current stage, it changes nothing. In the past when such porn prohibition laws have actually been enacted, the courts have struck them down as violative of free speech. No, this resolution is part of a move by the anti-porn crowd to reframe their strategy entirely. Instead of focusing the legality of porn they are instead trying to label porn as an epidemic and declaring a state of emergency in which they can use pseudoscience and propaganda to convince people that restricting pornography is in our best interests heath-wise. Much like with alcohol and drug use, prohibitionists are only concerned citizens worried about your health, no matter the costs of prohibition.
This resolution, while being little more than a public statement in action, has the potential to open the doors for state repression of currently legal sex work, an industry that is populated by many marginalized women including transwomen and women of color. In fact, one of the authors of the resolution, Dani Bianculli, the director of the law center at the National Center on Sexual Exploitation, has said that anti-porn activists from 10 different states have already contacted her to help draft legislation for their states as well. If this movement gains momentum, it could pave the way for larger prohibitions against the sex industry thus making it even more unsafe for some of the most marginalized workers in the market today.
This issue is about more than just free speech. It’s about the right of privacy and free trade. In an already extremely restricted market, porn is one of the few industries rapidly decentralizing. With easier access to cameras and millions of webcam, streaming, and other porn sites everywhere online, many people find it is an easy industry to break into with very little start up cost, thus offering them a chance to find employment and even self-employment. This is especially helpful to those who are kept from other industries due to systematic oppression. Make no mistake about it, this is about worker’s rights. Luckily at the current stage, Lee Rowland, a free speech attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union says it’s only, “an empty gesture.” But that’s no reason to let this go unnoticed and unchecked. Let’s quash this prohibition before it starts so it’s nothing more than just that.