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Court won't hear challenge to state sex toy law
Pleasures' owner not changing
store's inventory despite defeat

By Eric Fleischauer
eric@decaturdaily.com 340-2435

The sale of sex toys in Alabama is about to become illegal, but the owner of Pleasures in Decatur and Huntsville said her inventory will not change.

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear a challenge to the state's 1998 ban on sex-toy sales. A federal court injunction has prevented enforcement of the law during the challenge by Pleasures' owner Sherri Williams, but the state attorney general's office said it expected the court to lift that injunction in a couple of days.

"At that point, district attorneys around the state should feel comfortable enforcing it," said Chris Bence, spokesman for Attorney General Troy King.

Williams, speaking from Las Vegas where she was attending a trade show, said the sex toys she sells — including those that vibrate — have multiple purposes.

The 1998 law bans distribution of "any device designed or marketed as useful primarily for the stimulation of human genital organs for anything of pecuniary value."

It does not ban condoms, virility drugs or sexual devices with a "bona fide medical" purpose. The law does not prevent Alabama residents from buying sex toys in another state or online for use in Alabama.

"A large majority of our products are lying on the fence line," Williams said. "You can use it primarily to loosen muscles, to relieve yourself of temporary stress. Is it then considered to be a medical device or for a medical purpose?"

She said the devices she sells at the 1711 Central Parkway S.W. store also have other uses.

"What about educational? You want to teach your daughter the facts of life," she said. "Or scientific, if you're researching them for a school project."

Williams said she would not change what products she sells, just how she markets them.

"As of tomorrow, we will not be selling toys for the stimulation of human genitals. We'll be selling toys for medical purposes and to relieve stress," Williams said. She said the inventory will not change, just "the way we sell it.

"Remember you couldn't sell a bong, but you could sell a water pipe? Same thing."

Williams said she planned to avoid the Alabama statute with a sign in her store.

"We'll have something that says, 'You can't buy this for this reason, but you can buy it for this reason,' " Williams said.

Decatur Police Department spokesman Lt. Dennis Hughes said his department is obligated to enforce state laws and will do so.

"We'll be monitoring the situation, and we'll go from there with it," he said. "If we've got complaints or we need to do enforcement, then we'll take it as it comes."

He said complaints are not a necessary prerequisite to an enforcement action.

"We're charged with enforcing all local, state and federal laws," Hughes said. "If they're in violation of it, then we would enforce the laws."

Williams said she plans to contact the state attorney general's office to request guidance on how the law would be enforced.

"I'll ask the attorney general how he expects everyone to make these decisions as to what is a moral toy and what is not a moral toy," she said.

Williams said she resents what she believes is the state's intrusion into the private lives of its citizens.

"They are forcing their beliefs upon me and in doing so they are stealing everyone else's right to personal privacy," Williams said. "You're a grown adult. You have a right to choose what you want to do. If you don't want to buy a toy, all you have to do is decide not to walk in the door."

She said the law has a punitive effect on women.

"It's primarily geared towards women," she said. "Men can go to strip clubs. Men can buy all kinds of pornography, and that's legal. Women don't hang out in strip clubs and porn shops. A woman decides to go perfectly private to satisfy her needs, and that's illegal."

Williams said she plans to file a new lawsuit challenging the law on First Amendment grounds.

She had asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review a decision by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that upheld the statute's constitutionality.

That decision distinguished between the Pleasures case and a U.S. Supreme Court decision invalidating a Texas sodomy law because the Texas law involved private conduct while the Alabama law regulates commercial activity.

Decatur history

The city of Decatur courts many businesses, but it never romanced this one.

Pleasures opened its Decatur store in 1996, despite the protests of then-Mayor Julian Price.

"I think it's something that preys on a deteriorating moral climate," Price said at the time, "and I don't think we have that in Decatur. We have a very value-based system here."

Price predicted the store would be a commercial failure.

"He was wrong," Williams said Monday. "I've been there 10 years. All I've done is grow exponentially, an average of about 12 percent per year."

The store got off to a rocky start when, shortly after it opened, people complained that it had products — including a box for an inflatable doll — in its storefront window.

Just a mistake made during the confusion of moving to a new location, said the company's marketing director at the time.

Pleasures joined the Decatur-Morgan County Chamber of Commerce, and a ribbon cutting was planned. The Chamber Commodores — a group that welcomes new businesses — was scheduled to attend.

Word got out on the Pleasures inventory, and the chamber thought better of the ribbon-cutting ceremony. It refunded the store's $200 membership dues.

"When I think of some of the Commodores, I just can't imagine the look of horror on their faces," Price said at the time.

Williams said she refuses to give up her fight.

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