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Utah's most prominent anti-porn lawmaker wants to give people the ability to sue pornographers in an attempt to prove that watching their product causes emotional and psychological damage.
It is one of two related bills being drafted by state Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, who received national attention for leading the 2016 resolution declaring a public health crisis caused by pornography, a first in the United States. Weiler is working on a second bill that he says would close a loophole requiring public libraries to filter out pornography on wireless internet connections, not just wired connections.
He not only wants to limit access to sexually explicit material to children and teens, but he believes pornographers should be held liable for the impacts their products have on adults.
"Right now porn is available without any warnings and labeling, without any protections online," Weiler said. "This would just open the valve for a cause of action. Let these attorneys go after these cases."
If the Legislature passes his proposal, he said, he expects courts to initially reject claims that pornography causes real harm.
"But I think, eventually, the tide will turn," he said.
Weiler ties his push against such material to the court cases that proved cigarettes caused cancer, and he's not the only pornography opponent to make that link.
Robert Marshall is a Republican delegate to the Virginia Assembly.
"We've got to say, 'This is a problem' " Marshall recently told The Washington Post. "Before smoking was identified as a problem, at least the recognition that it led to certain pathologies was a starting point to put restrictions on it."
He is piggybacking on Weiler's resolution, hoping that Virginia will be the second state to declare a public health emergency.
Tennessee's Legislature is debating a similar measure, and the Republican National Committee warned about the health concerns tied to pornography in its 2016 platform.
Like Utah's resolution, the proposal in Virginia is a declaration that lacks any real teeth. It wouldn't ban pornography or limit it.
Weiler got the idea for the public-health resolution from the National Center on Sexual Exploitation, a Washington, D.C.-based group. And he's not surprised to see lawmakers in other states taking a look at it.
"That's what the plan was," he said.
Dawn Hawkins, the center's executive director, said she has not talked to Marshall about his efforts in Virginia, but she has been in contact with lawmakers pushing the resolution in other states. Her goal is to spur more public dialogue against pornography and more research on its effects.
"We are encouraged that he has the courage to bring it up," she said.
Her organization isn't pushing other anti-porn proposals, and Hawkins said the federal obscenity law is tough enough. She had no comment on Weiler's proposal to open porn producers up to lawsuits. Neither did the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah, which wants to see the proposal before weighing in on any potential free-speech issues.
Weiler, an attorney by trade, believes his idea is constitutionally sound because it would require people to legally prove they were harmed and that they deserve to receive damages.
Weiler and Hawkins are among those who are adamant that pornography is addictive and detrimental, but there are other researchers who disagree.
Ian Kerner, a New York-based psychotherapist and expert on human sexuality, believes society should seek to shield children from such movies and images, but he doesn't see porn as a public health crisis.
He told USA Today that everyone lives in a world "in which porn exists, the internet exists, and we need to show our kids how to live in it, and first we need to live in it ourselves, make porn a healthy part of our communication or communicate why we don't want it on our relationship."
Utah Gov. Gary Herbert sides with Weiler. He not only signed the public health resolution, Herbert has also asked lawmakers to grant $50,000 to the Utah Coalition Against Pornography, a private nonprofit, during the 2017 legislative session. The money would be used to hold seminars in schools. If appropriated, it would be the first time in more than a decade that taxpayer money would be used to fight pornography.