By SEANNA ADCOX The Associated Press
April 21, 2006
COLUMBIA — Lucy’s Love Shop employee Wanda Gillespie said she was flabbergasted that South Carolina’s Legislature is considering outlawing sex toys.
But banning the sale of sex toys is actually quite common in some Southern states.
The South Carolina bill, proposed by Republican Rep. Ralph Davenport, would make it a felony to sell devices used primarily for sexual stimulation and allow law enforcement to seize sex toys from raided businesses.
“That would be the most terrible thing in the world,” said Ms. Gillespie, an employee the Anderson shop. “That is just flabbergasting to me. We are supposed to be in a free country, and we’re supposed to be adults who can decide what want to do and don’t want to do in the privacy of our own homes.”
Ms. Gillespie, 49, said she has worked in the store for nearly 20 years and has seen people from every walk of life, including “every Sunday churchgoers.”
“I know of multiple marriages that sex toys have sold because some people need that. The people who are riding us (the adult novelty industry) so hard are probably at home buying it (sex toys and novelties) on the Internet. It’s ridiculous.”
The measure would add sex toys to the state’s obscenity laws, which already prohibit the dissemination and advertisement of obscene materials.
People convicted under obscenity laws face up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
South Carolina law borrows from a 1973 U.S. Supreme Court ruling to define obscene as something “contemporary community standards” determine as “patently offensive” sexual conduct, which “lacks serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value.”
Sugar ‘N Spice manager Pat Irons says a proposal to outlaw the sale of sex toys in South Carolina is outrageous.
While Davenport’s proposal is probably aimed at shutting down X-rated adult bookstores, Ms. Irons said, it hurts customers of “couples-oriented” stores such as her West Columbia shop, which sells everything from lingerie to bridal shower novelties to lotions.
At Sugar ‘N Spice, sex toys are displayed in a separate room. Buyers include men and women who “need a little help” because surgery or medical problems are affecting their marriage, Ms. Irons said.
“We’ve been selling these sex toys for 27 years,” she said Friday. “Even pastors shop in here. They send couples in here they counsel for marriage problems. It’s probably going to hit people like that harder than people realize.”
A Townville sex shop owner questioned the proposal’s legality.
“I don’t think that would be fair,” said John Terezakis, owner of Paradise! in Townville. “It’s depriving people of their freedom of choice. I don’t think the customers would appreciate it very much.”
Rep. Davenport, who is from Spartanburg County, did not return several messages Friday to talk about his bill, which was introduced last month. No other legislator has signed on as a co-sponsor and its passage this year seems unlikely.
Recent police raids in Rep. Davenport’s county have targeted adult-oriented businesses.
The sheriff’s office there seized movies, sex toys, sexual-enhancement pills and surveillance tapes from two businesses in January.
One of the stores, Priscilla’s, sued the sheriff’s office, claiming the raid violated constitutional rights and asked for the return of the seized items. Sheriff Chuck Wright refused.
The case has not yet gone to trial, Maj. Dan Johnson said.
Maj. Johnson said he knew nothing of Rep. Davenport’s proposal and was unsure how it could help their investigations, which involve undercover detectives renting movies or buying magazines and prosecutors determining whether they’re obscene.
“We’re focused on the hard-core magazines, videos … the hard-core porn,” he said.
Other states that ban the sell of sex toys include Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi and Texas, said Mark Lopez, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union.
Alabama’s law banning the sale of sex toys has been circulating through the courts since its passage in 1998. U.S. District Judge Lynwood Smith Jr. twice ruled against the law, holding that it violated the constitutional right to privacy, but the state won both times on appeal.
In February 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case, which is back in the lower courts.
“People think it’s distasteful. It makes for good campaign fodder and panders to the conservative side of people. That’s why we see the laws in the South,” Mr. Lopez said.
The ACLU got involved in the case, he said, to “keep the government out of the bedroom.”
Though the laws don’t punish people for owning sex toys, banning their sale is a backdoor attempt to discourage their use, Mr. Lopez said.
“People have a fundamental right to engage in lawful sexual practices in the privacy of their home,” Mr. Lopez said. “It’s not like this stuff is available in Macy’s. Kids aren’t allowed in. You or I wouldn’t accidentally walk into one.”