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Senator Tom Butler: Sex Toys never the Focus of the Alabama Bill

Alabama- Sen. Tom Butler, D-Madison,[pictured] didn’t set out to ban the sale of sex toys throughout the state, launching Alabama on a nine-year legal battle that last week reached the U.S. Supreme Court.

“Sex toys were not even the focus of the bill,” said Tim Morgan, the district attorney in Madison County, who helped Butler compile the information for the 1998 anti-obscenity law.

Instead, Butler, who sponsored the bill, had been vocal in his attempt to quash the nude dancing that proliferated in clubs in Madison County in the 1990s. Several statutes had been tried, but club owners had always found loopholes, recalled Morgan.

In 1998, the new law was designed to close those loopholes. “That’s where it started,” confirmed Butler on Friday.

Morgan said the state’s 1998 Anti-Obscenity Enforcement Act was successful in that sense, ending completely nude dancing here. However, the 14-page act also included a line banning the distribution of “any device designed or marketed as useful primarily for the stimulation of the human genital organs.”

Last week, Sherri Williams, owner of adult toy shops in Huntsville and Decatur, took what she says will be her final appeal, asking the U.S. Supreme Court to hear her challenge of the state law. Her attorneys contend that the U.S. Constitution protects “sexual privacy.”

“It’s become quite an embarrassment to the state,” said Williams in Huntsville last week.

Butler hasn’t publicly commented on the challenge since March 1999. On Friday, he briefly broke his silence.

Butler said he didn’t believe the media attention had any adverse effect on the national image of Alabama. “First thing (Rudy) Giuliani did when he cleaned up New York was close down the sex shops,” said Butler.

He also said that the ban on the sale of sex toys was the result of a law modeled on the laws of surrounding states. Morgan confirmed that. “Neither Tom Butler nor myself or anybody drafted the bill,” said Morgan on Thursday.

Morgan said his staff copied similar laws from a few surrounding states, and that information went straight to the Legislative Reference Service in Montgomery, which drafted what would become the final bill.

Attorneys involved with the case say that Georgia, Texas, Nebraska, Virginia, Mississippi and Louisiana maintain similar bans on the sale of sex toys.

Because of Williams’ ongoing legal challenge, the ban has yet to be enforced in Alabama.

“Any legitimate interest Alabama might have in banning public displays of obscene material does not support a far-reaching restriction that criminalizes the sale of sexual devices in wholly private settings,” reads Williams’ petition to the court.

The attorney general’s office, which represents the state, did not comment last week.

The Supreme Court receives hundreds of requests each year and hears only a small fraction. If the Supreme Court declines to hear Williams case, as it did in 2005, the ban would take effect here for the first time.

“I think (the law) is constitutionally sound. I think the Supreme Court will probably refuse to hear it. They may surprise me,” said Morgan last week.

If the Supreme Court declines to hear the case, then as early as this summer sale of a sex toy in Alabama could lead to a maximum of one year in jail and a $10,000 fine. The law does not prohibit possession.

Morgan said he would consider cases brought to his office by law enforcement if the law stands, but didn’t plan to start a campaign against vendors. “Sex toys are not the highest priority on our radar right now,” he said.

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