Court Declares Texas Sex Toy Law Unconstitutional

Tom Hymes
NEW ORLEANS, La. — A three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans has overturned a Texas law from the 1970s that makes it a crime to promote or sell sex toys in the state.

Yesterday's 2-1 opinion referenced the U.S. Supreme Court's 2003 decision in Lawrence v. Texas that struck down a Texas law that prohibited private consensual sex among people of the same gender. That ruling created a broad if undefined constitutional right to sexual privacy.

"Whatever one might think or believe about the use of these [sex toy] devices," Justice Thomas M. Reavley wrote in the 5th Circuit opinion, "government interference with their personal and private use violates the Constitution.

"Just as in Lawrence, the state here wants to use its law to enforce a public moral code by restricting private intimate conduct," the ruling continued. "This case is not about public sex. It is not about controlling commerce in sex. It is about controlling what people do in the privacy of their own homes because the state is morally opposed to a certain type of of consensual private intimate conduct."

The current case dates back to 2004, when Reliable Consultants Inc., the owner of two Dreamers stores and Le Rouge Boutique in Austin, filed suit in U.S. District Court, challenging the sex toy ban and seeking a declaratory judgment against its enforcement. Phil Harvey Enterprises (PHE) later joined the case as plaintiff.

Though none of the plaintiffs had been prosecuted in Texas under the statute, they claimed that its existence harmed their businesses by preventing customers from purchasing those products. Plaintiffs were represented by the Cincinnati-based law firm of Sirkin, Pinales & Schwartz LLP.

The judge in that lawsuit dismissed the case, finding no constitutional right to promote such "obscene" devices, but the plaintiffs appealed and were vindicated yesterday.

According to the Houston Chronicle, Tom Kelley, spokesman for the Texas Attorney General's Office, which intervened in the case on behalf of one of the original defendants, Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle, said a decision has not been made on whether to petition the New Orleans appeals court for a hearing before the full court.

The paper also reports that, if left unchallenged, the decision will not go into effect until the court issues its mandate in early March.