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The Anti-Obscenity Enforcement Act of 1998 is an Alabamamarker statute that criminalizes the sale of sex toys. The law has been the subject of extensive litigation and has generated considerable national controversy.

The statute

The statute was originally sponsored by State Senator Tom Butler of Madison, Alabamamarker as a measure to prohibit nude dancing. It prohibits "any person to knowingly distribute, possess with intent to distribute, or offer or agree to distribute any obscene material or any device designed or marketed as useful primarily for the stimulation of human genital organs for any thing of pecuniary value." First time offenders face a $10,000 fine and a year in prison, while repeat offenders can face up to ten years in prison. Exemptions exist for "bona fide medical, scientific, educational, legislative, judicial or law enforcement purposes."

The law's most outspoken backers have been a coalition of Conservative Christians led by Dan Ireland of the Alabama Citizens' Action Program. Ireland has defended the law on the grounds that "laws are made to protect the public" and "sometimes you have to protect the public against themselves." In a widely distributed interview, while explaining why the state should ban sex toys but not guns, Ireland said, "There are moral ways and immoral ways to use a firearm....There is no moral way to use one of these devices."

Legal challenges

Sherry Williams, an adult novelty dealer, and the American Civil Liberties Union challenged the statute on constitutional grounds The argued that the precedent of Lawrence v. Texas, finding a right to engage in consensual gay sex, also guaranteed a right to sell sex toys. After initially winning their case, Williams vs. Alabama, in Federal District Court, Williams lost appeals to the 11th Circuit. The Supreme Court refused to hear the case.

Ross Winner, the owner of a chain store named Love Stuff, subsequently sued to have the statute declared unconsitutional under the Alabama Constitution. Winner's position is that "a person should have the ability to come in and purchase a sexual device with out having to have a reason." The Alabama Supreme Court ruled against him on September 11, 2009, and the statute's ban is now in effect.

Although the United States Supreme Courtmarker might still review the case, in light of the split decision of a right to sex toys among lower courts, well-regarded court scholars doubt that they will do so. For example, Eugene Volokh believes that the law may be viewed as "of comparatively minor practical importance and the sort of thing that some Justices might see as beneath the Court's dignity." However, others have argued that the law fails even a "rational basis" text under the 14th Amendment.

State Assemblyman John Rogers of Birminghammarker has repeatedly introduced legislation to repeal the ban, but each bill has been defeated.

Public reaction

San Francisco radio personality Big Joe Lopez held a protest outside the Federal Courthouse in Huntsville, Alabama, giving away sex toys to passersby. Liberal social critic Jacob M. Appel has argued that "progressive Americans ought to accept this challenge to debate such devices on their merits" and has written that most Ameicans "view sex toys as a social good" and that "in the marketplace of ideas, sexual pleasure will trounce Puritanism--and almost everything else."

Toy drive

In 2007, Alabama politician Loretta Nall, a former Libertarian Party candidate for governor, launched a well-publicized "toy drive" to send sex toys to Alabama Attorney General Troy King, a staunch defender of the law.

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