Clearly out to win some kind of Orwell award, the bill's sponsor, Democratic State Senator Tarryl Clark stated, "This bill is not about policing personal choices. The bill is about taking another step in reducing sexual violence in our society."
Also, proof that the usual suspects from the Stop Porn Culture crowd have had an influence here, Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault executive director Donna Dunn notes that the legislation is meant to target material that "show[s] degrading and body-punishing sex".
Further details here, here, here, and here. Text of the legislation here.
What stands out about this legislation is that it has not come from the usual suspects on the religious right (though the "clean hotel" list in the US is maintained by these groups) nor is it justified on "decency" grounds. Rather, the bill was sponsored by a Democrat, lobbied for by a coalition of feminist anti-sexual violence groups (specifically, the Mens' Action Network (who maintain a page on the subject here), the Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault, and, notably, the Minnesota Department of Health Injury and Violence Prevention Unit), and specifically touted as prevention of sexual violence. More chillingly, a document by the MDH Injury and Violence Prevention Unit, "The Promise of Primary Prevention of Sexual Violence: A Five-Year Plan To Prevent Sexual Violence and Exploitation in Minnesota" specifically highlights porn and "sexual objectification" as a causal agent in sexual violence and recommends legislative and other state-sponsored strategies against it.
If this kind of thing coming out of the great state of Minnesota sounds familiar, one needs to go back some 25 years to the heyday of the Dworkin/MacKinnon Ordinance, which was first passed by the Minneapolis City Council in 1983 (though vetoed by the mayor, who recognized the legislation would clearly lose on constitutional grounds). The language of the present legislation comes right out of the earlier Dworkin/MacKinnon legislation. While the authors claim that legislation does not target all sexually explicit material shown at hotels, it broadly defines the targeted material as follows:
"pornographic image or performance" means a sexually explicit image or performance that objectifies or exploits its subjects by eroticizing domination, degradation, or violence.
(Also, as is typical of the hypocrisy of such legislation, while it broadly defines a wide range of pornographic content as "violent" by definition, violent non-porn movies shown on hotel movie channels, such as Saw or Captivity, get a free pass.)
Unfortunately, there seems to be little sustained opposition to this legislation (other than from the hotel lobby), and the Minnesota ACLU website doesn't see fit to mention it. The legislation has a good chance of passing, though how it will stand up if challenged in court is less clear – the bill uses the same ideologically-loaded language struck down in Booksellers v. Hudnut. I urge readers in Minnesota to write their legislators and raise awareness of this issue.
Meanwhile, in Texas, a bill passed last year charging a $5 per head "pole tax" on strip-club patrons is scheduled to go before the Texas State Supreme Court this week. What is notable about this legislation is that it too was passed on grounds of "preventing sexual violence", mandating that the tax be used to fund anti-sexual violence groups. While this may seem non-problematic on the surface, it once again, mandates a direct link between the sex industry and violence against women, and proposes a sin tax as a partial solution.
Like the Minnesota legislation, the Texas bill was sponsored by a Democratic legislator, State Representative Ellen Cohen, and backed by a coalition of anti-sexual violence groups. It should also come as no surprise that Robert Jensen was one of the consultants on this piece of legislation and that a women's center at Jensen's institution, University of Texas, is one of the proposed recipients of the largess of this tax.
More here, here, and here.
While these pieces of anti-porn legislation are a great deal less far-reaching than many earlier anti-porn legislative efforts in the US, or current ones in some European and Commonwealth countries, such legislation is clearly meant to set a precedent. Laws specifically linking pornography to violence against women that might stand up to constitutional challenges may be used as justification for more far-reaching legislation in the future.