1984 May 1

Indianapolis Anti-Pornography Ordinance Signed


The mayor of Indianapolis, Indiana, signed into law on this day an anti-pornography ordinance, which created civil remedies for individuals who felt they had been the victims of pornography. Cast as a civil rights ordinance, it defined as discrimination against women the “graphic depiction” of women as sexual objects who enjoy being raped, enjoy sexual pain and humiliation, and other similar acts. Women claiming discrimination could sue for damages.

The law was the creation of feminist author and activist Andrea Dworkin and law professor Catharine MacKinnon. Although primarily designed to protect women, it also covered the use of men, children, or transsexuals in any sexually degrading manner. (A similar ordinance had been passed twice by the Minneapolis City Council, but was vetoed on both occasions; see December 30, 1983).

Civil libertarians opposed the Indianapolis ordinance as a violation of the First Amendment. The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals declared the law a violation of the First Amendment, in American booksellers Association v. Hudnut (August 27, 1985). The Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal, leaving the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals decision standing.

Catharine MacKinnon is also credited with developing the concept of sexual harassment as a violation of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The Supreme Court accepted that argument in a decision on June 19, 1986.

The Seventh Circuit: “The ordinance discriminates on the ground of the content of the speech. Speech treating women in the approved way—in sexual encounters ‘premised on equality’—is lawful no matter how sexually explicit. Speech treating women in the disapproved way—as submissive in matters sexual or as enjoying humiliation—is unlawful no matter how significant the literary, artistic, or political qualities of the work taken as a whole. The state may not ordain preferred viewpoints in this way. The Constitution forbids the state to declare one perspective right and silence opponents.”

Listen to Andrea Dworkin speak about pornography and women: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NnPX0q96y2c

Learn more: Nadine Strossen, Defending Pornography:Free Speech, Sex, and the Fight For Women’s Rights (1995)

Learn more about the feminist anti-pornography movement: Leigh Ann Wheeler, How Sex Became a Civil Liberty (2013)

Read the Media Coalition report on MacKinnon: http://mediacoalition.org/files/Catharine-MacKinnon-report.pdf

Learn more about the myths and facts about pornography: Marcia Pally, Sense and Censorship: The Vanity of the Bonfires (1991), http://mediacoalition.org/files/Sense-and-Censorship.pdf

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