Editor’s note: This story pairs with another titled “Anti-pornography advocates want more open conversation in sex education“
A bill recently approved by the Utah State Legislature and signed by Gov. Gary Herbert allows families with minors who are emotionally or psychologically injured by pornography to file a lawsuit against the companies whose content caused the damage.
The new law is believed to be the first of its kind in the nation.
The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, said the legislation is a follow-up to a resolution that was passed last year declaring pornography a public health crisis in Utah. Weiler said the new law aims to protect minors, but to include adults as well would overstep legal boundaries.
He said Utah law prohibits minors from using cigarettes, but permits their use by adults, even though consumers are warned on cigarette packaging that the contents are harmful.
Weiler said this theory applies to other substances as well. While adults may know of the dangers, he does not think it is appropriate to limit adult choice when in comes to pornography consumption.
“It kind of comes down to, ‘What is the proper role of government?'” Weiler said. “Is it the proper role of government to prevent adults from doing things that they want to do that may hurt them, or not?”
He said he believes it’s the proper role of government to protect kids, but he also believes adults must be free to make their own choices in such matters.
He said while he doesn’t know anyone who has successfully sued by claiming harm from pornography, he thinks it may not have been very clear whether or not such an attempt was even possible. The new law makes it very clear such a lawsuit is legal in Utah.
Weiler said though the law has made it possible for families to file suit for damages, the language in the law also creates a “safe harbor” for pornography producers. The law says there are two conditions that must be met to disqualify an agency from being held liable.
“One, they have to make a good-faith attempt to age-verify and keep minors away from the content, and two, they have to warn their consumers that pornography could be harmful to minors,” Weiler said.
Weiler said the law is a continued attempt to educate people about pornography, and he hopes it will ultimately change the behavior of many pornographic websites and other media.
The Daily Universe made several attempts to reach members of the Utah House who opposed the bill, but they did not respond to requests for comment.