At the urging of its women's commission, the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday agreed to explore adoption of an anti-pornography ordinance patterned after a controversial Indianapolis law that has been struck down by a federal court.
Claiming that current state and federal laws are inadequate to control the problem, the commission proposed an ordinance that would declare that pornography is sex discrimination.
Pornography under the proposed ordinance is defined as the "graphic, sexually explicit subordination of women." Such subordination includes depicting women as "dehumanized" sex objects or in sexual acts of violence.
The ordinance would give broad rights to sue both to individuals alleging they were victimized by pornographers and to any women who claim that the material is degrading to women as a group. Any man, child or transsexual can file similar claims on behalf of his group. Suits could be filed against publishers, distributors and retailers of printed material or films. The suits could seek to block distribution of the material.
"We are objecting to the aspect of hard-core pornography which promotes violence against women as entertainment," said Stella Ohanesian, president of the county Commission for Women.
The board ordered its attorneys to review the proposed ordinance, developed after months of hearings by the commission, and report back as soon as possible.
Responding to comments from several speakers, including feminist attorney Gloria Allred and movie director Peter Bogdanovich, Supervisors Kenneth Hahn and Michael Antonovich argued for immediate approval of the ordinance, but could not muster a needed third vote.
Other board members expressed concern about legal problems the ordinance may encounter. Supervisor Pete Schabarum said the ordinance would be "breaking new ground" and goes "very far afield of the tested definition" of pornography.
ACLU Vows to Sue
Shortly after the vote, the legal director of the Los Angeles chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union vowed to file a lawsuit challenging the ordinance if it is adopted.
The Indianapolis ordinance, which has become a focus of national debate, was declared unconstitutional in November by a federal judge, who ruled it was overly broad, a violation of free speech and unconstitutionally vague. The decision is being appealed.
Allred said, "Allowing the constant glorification of the subordination of women through pornography to continue is fundamentally inconsistent with our national commitment to equality."
Catherine MacKinnon, a visiting law professor at UCLA who helped draft the Indianapolis law and the proposed Los Angeles ordinance, said the measure "puts power in the hands of victims" of pornography.
Bogdanovich, author of a book about Dorothy Stratten, the Playboy centerfold and starlet who was ultimately killed by her estranged husband, said a "lot of female guinea pigs are getting killed or maimed or their lives are being destroyed." He said Stratten was "clearly a victim of pornography."
But the board also heard from Libertarian Party activist Wendy McElroy, who said the ordinance infringes on the rights of women to control their own bodies. She also said it suggests that women "need to be protected from the consequences of their own actions. . . . This is not a step forward for women."