Referendum Raises Obscenity, Censorship Issues
PORTLAND, Maine (AP) _ Supporters of a referendum on whether to outlaw pornography say they want to rid Maine of the hard-core smut they claim leads to sexual abuse and violence. But to opponents, the proposal itself is obscene.
Voters on June 10 will decide whether Maine will outlaw the sale of obscene materials in a referendum that defines obscenity in terms supplied by the Supreme Court in 1973.
Although more than half the states have anti-obscenity laws, most have been adopted by legislatures, said Barry W. Lynn, legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union.
″I think that we’ll get a better sense from this than virtually anything else I can imagine as to the level of interest in - I would call it censorship - regulation of what people can read,″ Lynn said Thursday.
The referendum, prompted by a petition drive by the fundamentalist Christian Civic League of Maine, has renewed debate over the effects of pornography and how far government should go to curb it. The proposal defines as obscene that which appeals to morbid sexual interests, is patently offensive and lacks ″serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value.″
″We recognize, along with I think a growing number of American citizens, the threat of hard-core, violent pornography and the great harm it does, especially to women and children,″ said Jasper Wyman, civic league director.
Wyman, a Baptist minister and former state representative, cites a forthcoming Justice Department report to bolster his argument that pornography contributes to rape, child sexual abuse and other acts of sexual violence.
Critics say no link has been proved between pornography and violence.
″Members of the attorney general’s commission immersed themselves in pornography of the vilest kind for more than a year, and I haven’t heard them complain that they have a new proclivity to violent sex,″ said Charles Devoe, chairman of the newly established Maine Citizens Against Government Censorship.
Opponents say the pornography ban would not be effective.
″Prohibition never stopped drinking. It’ll go underground and be more expensive,″ said Vincenzo DePaolo, owner of a Portland store that sells hard- core magazines, books, videos and ″novelties.″
And if it were effective, some critics argue, that would be worse still.
Both Thomas Harvey, president of the Maine Teachers’ Association, and Edward Roast, who worked at a Portland X-rated theater for five years, said the referendum could lead to ″book burning.″
Glenna Nowell, librarian in Gardiner and president of the Maine Library Association, said the law could be used against sex-education and evolution textbooks, and would prod librarians to ″sanitize their collections.″
Unlike a 1982 anti-obscenity ordinance in Portland, the state law would punish violators with a one-year prison term and a $1,000 fine, she noted. Also unlike the Portland law, it would not exempt libraries, museums and schools.
″If the political climate changed, the law could be used in a way never intended,″ Nowell said.
A poll taken in May for the Capitol News Bureau in Augusta showed 49 percent of adult residents surveyed opposed the referendum while 43.8 percent favored it. But supporters outnumbered opponents among those who said they were very likely to vote, and opponents worry that Wyman’s emphasis on hardcore pornography has drawn widespread support.
″The bill is not written to combat violence and the most vile pornography,″ said the Maine Commission for Women, which joined the National Organization for Women in declaring its opposition. ″The censorship referendum is an attempt by a small minority of people ... to apply their definitions to all of us.″
The Roman Catholic Diocese of Maine and several other churches support the proposal. But some others announced their opposition this week, saying ″goodness and moral action should be freely chosen.″
Both major political parties rejected the measure at their state conventions, although both Republican candidates in the gubernatorial primary support it. Democratic Gov. Joseph E. Brennan opposes it.
Wyman said the proposal’s critics are ″absolutists who don’t want any restrictions on anything.″ The opponents ″are trying to appeal to a vague, unsubstantiated fear that those of us who support this are going to put on white hoods and burn all the libraries in Maine on June 11,″ he said.
″I think the pluses far outweigh the minuses,″ said state Rep. Patrick Paradis, a Democrat from Augusta. ″Pornography is not a First Amendment right and there are many people who are aggrieved by it.″