If you were hoping your 2023 was going to be obscene, lewd, lascivious, and filthy, you’re going to be disappointed if Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) gets his way.
On Dec. 16, Lee introduced the Interstate Obscenity Definition Act, which basically seeks to “establish a national definition of obscenity that would apply to obscene content that is transmitted via interstate or foreign communications,” and that includes the internet, according to Lee’s office.
Yep, that’s right. Lee is seeking to ban online porn. All of it. Now all anybody will be left with is cat videos.
According to Vice, there are already “federal communications standards that qualify ‘obscenity’ as content that’s spread with the intent to abuse, threaten, or harass a person.”
And let’s be clear, things like revenge porn or secretly recording someone, or sexual abuse of any kind are bad. Those things are crimes and should be.
But Lee thinks that the definition of “obscenity” doesn’t go far enough. His bill would expand the definition to include anything that “appeals to the prurient interest in nudity, sex, or excretion” and “depicts, describes, or represents an actual or simulated sexual act or sexual contact, actual or simulated normal or perverted sexual acts, or lewd exhibition of the genitals, with the objective intent to arouse, titillate, or gratify the sexual desires of a person” and “lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.”
Sounds pretty cut and dried; no ambiguity there at all. Good thing we have a 51-year-old cisgender white guy with an anti-LGBTQ+ history to define it for us all!
Just this year, he sought to put parental advisories on TV shows that contained LGBTQ+ content and opposed the Respect for Marriage Act, calling it “legislation that seriously threatens religious liberty.” He also tried to help Trump overturn the election. So, gross all around.
According to XBIZ, “If the IODA succeeds, and sexual content loses the free-speech protections that have stood for the last 50 years, that would open the door for the government to prosecute every creator or distributor of adult content.”
Good luck with that.
IODA is a ridiculous proposition. Scrubbing the internet of porn is like trying to soak up an ocean using paper towels. And I have no doubt that Lee knows it won’t pass. But this is “setting the stage” legislation.
“I spend a lot of time in anti-porn and anti-sex work forums, monitoring what’s going on in terms of those conversations, and there is obviously a rise in panic around things like pornography and sex education in schools,” Free Speech Coalition Director of Public Affairs Mike Stabile told Vice. “We need to realize and make as clear as possible what they intend to do with the internet, with schools: They want to shut down conversations about sex and sexuality in the public square.”
In other words, Republicans use bills like this to attempt to signal that they are the protectors of moral decency and, thus, the protectors of children.
As the New Civil Rights Movement points out, IODA echoes legislation passed in 2018 — FOSTA (Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act) and SESTA (Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act) laws — in that it casts such a wide net that it drives sex workers further into the shadows, making the work more dangerous.
Sex work is work. Obviously, children should not be part of the sex work industry in any way, and we must work to prevent that.
But if Republicans really care about sex trafficking so much, then they should spare no expense to lift children out of poverty and protect children who live in abusive situations, including LGBTQ+ children who are rejected by their families and end up homeless at unconscionable rates. Instead, they demonize poor people, claim LGBTQ+ people are inherently damaged and perverted, and yell about a cabal of Satan-worshipping Democrats and Hollywood elites who are actually lizards masterminding an enormous child sex trafficking ring in underground tunnels, an enterprise only Donald Trump can stop.
But, hey, Republicans, do go on about how you’re the party seeking to protect children, even though that apparently starts with forcing pregnant people to give birth against their will and stops with keeping kids away from drag queens.
D’Anne Witkowski is a writer living with her wife and son. She has been writing about LGBTQ+ politics for nearly two decades. Follow her on Twitter @MamaDWitkowski.