Election 2016

Porn-Regulating Prop 60 Faces Final Showdown Tonight in California

Condoms-in-porn measure pits adult-film industry and public-health groups against public hysteria and a would-be porn czar



Today Californians vote on Proposition 60, a ballot measure sponsored by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) that would require condom usage in adult films; empower a full-time state porn czar to monitor said films for violations (and impose steep fines); establish a licensing scheme for porn-production companies; and allow California residents to bring civil suits against porn producers or anyone with financial interests in a sex scene sans prophylactics (which could, in turn, expose porn performers real names and addresses to the public).

AHF President Michael Weinstein, the main driver behind Prop 60—and the man who would be the state's first porn czar—has also repeatedly petitioned the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) to make condoms in porn a requirement of state workplace-safety regulations; Cal/OSHA voted against such a rule again last February. And he's the genesis of a 2012 Los Angeles County law requiring condoms in porn filmed in Los Angeles County. "He wants to be the sheriff of porn town," said Karen Fuller Tynan, a California lawyer who specializes in adult-industry case, at an AVN panel in Las Vegas in January. "He really wants to get rid of us, and wants to rule us." Weinstein, however, maintains that he's interested in stopping the spread of HIV.

The porn industry, including the performers Prop 60 is ostensibly meant to protect, has been vocally opposed to the measure, as have HIV/AIDS organizations and the state Democratic, Republican, and Libertarian parties. A partial list of opponents includes adult-industry trade association the Free Speech Coalition, the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, the Los Angeles LGBT Center, the St. James Infirmary, Equality California, all seven of California's largest newspapers (the Los Angeles Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, the San Jose Mercury News, the Orange County Register, the East Bay Times, the Sacramento Bee, and the San Diego Union Tribune) and dozens of other papers.

According to Prop 60 opponents, the measure presents too much of a risk to performer privacy, giving California residents "the ability to out porn performers and get paid for it," as Violet Blue put it at Engadget. ("You're incentivizing the viewer to sue us," adult actor Tommy Gunn told the Hollywood Reporter.) They also worry the law could end up ensnaring individuals who do private webcam shows from their own homes (a rising part of the porn industry) or make amateur adult-films involving real-life a lover, spouse, or friend; California couples with an exhibitionist streak could find themselves facing tens of thousands in fines. But most importantly, it's completely unnecessary—the adult-film industry is self-policing, performers are tested every 14 days, and there hasn't been a single case of on-set HIV transmission in porn since 2004, they say.

Vice News Tonight reporter (and Reason alum) Michael Moynihan talked to Yes On 60 campaign manager Rick Taylor on the show's season debut Monday and asked him about his group's claims that the porn industry lies about HIV transmissions. Taylor defended the claim by saying that "none of us know, truthfully, and they don't know and I'm not gonna tell you I know. What I do know is that STDs on a daily basis gets transmitted." Here's a bit more of the exchange:

Moynihan: STDs? But if this is the concern, why do the ads you guys run have three people that stated they have contracted HIV on an adult set? They're saying that in the ad. They're saying 'we contracted this on a set,' but you're saying you don't know?

Taylor: I'm saying that I believe they did. I'm saying I believe they did.

Porn performer Chanel Preston explained to Moynihan later in the segment how condoms could actually increase performers' risk of contracting infections. "In your personal life if you have intercourse, generally condoms are fine, whereas we're having intercourse anywhere from 30 minutes at least to hour," said Preston. "And so when we use condoms, it's very, very different, especially for women, and just basically causes a rash, like micro-tears that actually makes us more susceptible to other infections and so it doesn't keep us more safe necessarily."

But as Violet Blue pointed out, "to the ordinary voter, [requiring condoms in porn] seems like a no-brainer: Of course we want these people to have safer sex." With Weinstein and Prop 60 proponents pushing it as a way to stop the spread of AIDS and protect vulnerable porn performers from exploitation, and given people's general willingness to believe the worst about the sex industry, the fate of Prop 60 on the eve of Election 2016 is anything but clear.

According to the California Legislative Analyst's Office, the passage of Propostition 60 would lead to a "likely reduction of state and local tax revenues of several million dollars annually" due to the fleeing of porn-production companies, with "increased state spending that could exceed $1 million annually on regulation." A September survey from the Los Angeles Times found 55 percent of people supported the measure.