Anti-LGBTQ+ Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) has proposed a bill to ban porn from the internet.
His Interstate Obscenity Definition Act (IODA) would ban pornography from the internet. And since many conservatives argue that any literature or art that mentions LGBTQ+ people is pornographic, the bill could threaten to shut down discussions of LGBTQ+ issues online.
Obscene materials already don’t have First Amendment protection in the U.S., but the Supreme Court defined obscenity to only include “patently offensive” depictions of sexuality as determined by “the average person applying contemporary community standards.” The line between legal pornography and obscene materials is subject to a judge’s opinion and moral standards.
Lee’s bill would change that and define as obscene anything that “appeals to the prurient interest in nudity, sex, or excretion… with the objective intent to around, titillate, or gratify the sexual desires of a person” and lacks “serious literary, artistic political or scientific value.” That is, the IODA would define all porn to be obscene, not just porn that’s “patently offensive” depending on “contemporary community standards.”
Lee’s statements on the bill don’t explain why he thinks it’s necessary.
“This bill, among our members, has gotten a huge amount of attention,” Free Speech Coalition director of public affairs Mike Stabile told VICE News. The Free Speech Coalition is a trade association for adult entertainment workers. “Our members understand this for what it is: It’s a threat to their business, to their livelihood. It’s a threat to their community.”
“We are in a very reactionary cultural moment,” he continued. ”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.”
“I think we have to see this as part of a broader push to really censor speech about sex.”
This past year has seen numerous conservative activists demanding books by LGBTQ+ authors be removed from school libraries, calling them “porn” even though they are not because they weren’t made with any intent to arouse. Conservatives often see any discussions of non-heterosexuality to be overly sexual even though they wouldn’t see similar discussions of heterosexual dating and romance in the same way.
Lee, who rose to prominence as a leader in the Tea Party movement in 2010, has a long history of anti-LGBTQ+ views. In 2015, he complained that the Supreme Court legalized marriage equality in all 50 states in its Obergefell v. Hodges ruling, calling it “unfortunate.”
“Today five Justices took a vital question about the future of American society out of the public square, imposing the views of five unelected judges on a country that is still in the midst of making up its mind about marriage,” he said in a statement at the time. “That is unfortunate, but it is not the end of the discussion, as Americans of good faith who believe that marriage is the union of a man and a woman will continue to live as witnesses to that truth.”
In 2018 he suggested cutting funding to the Organization of American States when the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights recommended that Costa Rica grant marriage equality to LGBTQ+ people.
And just this past year he introduced an amendment to the Respect for Marriage Act that would have gutted anti-discrimination laws in the U.S., creating religious exemptions to anti-discrimination laws for businesses “adhering to traditional views of marriage.” That is, his amendment – which failed – would have provided protections for businesses on the basis of their opposition to LGBTQ+ equality.
The IODA is unlikely to pass with only a few days left in the congressional session and Democrats in control of the Senate. But it signals what might be a priority for Republicans in coming sessions of Congress.
While it’s hard to study the prevalence of porn usage in the U.S., Psych Central cites a 2013 study that said that 25% of all search engine requests are “related to sex” and that 40 million Americans say they are “regular visitors” of porn websites.