Mayor Rawlings Takes a Probably Unconstitutional Stand Against Porn Convention

eXXXotica is definitely gauche, but it's probably constitutionally protected.EXPAND
eXXXotica is definitely gauche, but it's probably constitutionally protected.
Roderick Pullum

Last August, just ahead of the eXXXotica Expo's Dallas Convention Center debut, Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings announced that he was "deeply concerned" about the convention. Seemingly, he was acting in concert with the Dallas Women's Foundation, which drew a line between a harmless, tacky convention hawking dildos and overpriced photos with porn stars and human trafficking. Rawlings said then that, despite his concerns, he couldn't do anything to stop the convention. Now, before eXXXotica can book the convention center again, Rawlings is trying to preempt the convention, in seeming defiance of public accommodation laws.

Wednesday, the Dallas City Council will vote on a resolution that would ban eXXXotica from coming back to the convention center. Rawlings, who did not return the Observer's request for comment, told The Dallas Morning News that the convention center was no place for a so-called "sexpo."

“This is a business that’s in the business of sex and of sexual products,” Rawlings told the News. “There is a way in our city to do that, and being at the convention center is not that. I think anyone can look at the videos The Dallas Morning News took and their advertising and make that decision for themselves. I have, and the City Council will decide for themselves Wednesday.”

At least two council members will not be voting with the mayor.

"[The mayor] is making a pretty serious legal mistake, and I'm pretty disappointed that he couldn't be talked out of it," Philip Kingston said.

Kingston says that the mayor's resolution, if adopted, is clearly unconstitutional, just like the city's ban on protests near highways and its ban on feeding the homeless without a permit. The city got sued over both of those and ended up settling both cases after U.S. District Judge Jorge Solis took issue with both ordinances — it settled the highway protest case for $270,000 and the feeding case for $250,000.

"If you have a public accommodation, you can't rent it and then discriminate on the basis of content. This specific kind of event is the subject of very explicit Supreme Court opinions. You can't decide which conventions you're going to have once you've got a public convention center. That's just the rule, you know, and there aren't any exceptions" Kingston said.

Legal issues aside, Kingston says eXXXotica didn't really cause any problems last year. Plainclothes vice cops sent to the convention didn't see anything illegal, and the dentist's convention in town at the same time didn't get any complaints, Kingston says.

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"What they actually discovered is that the dentists loved it," he says.

Lee Kleinman, who frequently spars with Kingston on the council, agrees with his colleague on eXXXotica.

"I'm probably not going to vote in favor of restricting them, because it opens up too many cans of worms. Do we start restricting religious groups we don't like or political groups we don't like? Not to condone the behavior, but whether the behavior is deplorable or not is not the issue," he says. "It's personally hard for me to draw the connection between what's going to be happening at this show and what's happening in domestic violence cases at home between a man and his wife or a man and his girlfriend. That's the kind of domestic violence problem we have in Dallas."


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