ESPLER Files Brief in Case Challenging Calif.'s Anti-Prostitution Law

Jan 19, 2016 2:40 PM PST

SAN FRANCISCO — Plaintiffs lawyers in the case challenging the constitutionality of California’s anti-­prostitution law filed a supplemental brief last week, outlining how last June’s landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling overturning state bans on same­-sex marriage supports their arguments — that the rights of sex workers and their clients deserve similar legal protection.

U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White had asked both sides in ESPLER Project v. Gascon to submit supplemental briefs addressing the implications of Obergefell v. Hodges — the historic U.S. Supreme Court decision made in June that struck down the remaining state laws prohibiting same ­sex marriage — on the current matter awaiting his ruling.

Officials at ESPLER, also known as Erotic Service Providers Legal, Education, and Research Project, indicated last year to XBIZ that the San Francisco Bay Area’s organization has taken White’s request for additional briefs as an encouraging sign, since he would have little apparent need for such information if he intended to grant the defendants’ motion to dismiss.

In their brief, ESPLER attorneys affirm that the Obergefell ruling shields private sexual relationships from governmental oversight and upholds the rights of individuals to engage in intimate conduct without unwarranted state intrusion under the due process clause of the 14th Amendment.

“The justices in Obergefell categorically rejected the idea that we must rely upon the democratic process to protect our constitutional liberties,” ESPLER president Maxine Doogan said in a statement. “We’ve tried legislative initiatives in the past to stop this government persecution but as with initial efforts to defend gay rights at the ballot box, the forces opposing us were still too powerful.”

Starchild, a San Francisco-based sex worker and libertarian activist who supports the ESPLER Project’s lawsuit that names Kamala Harris as a defendant in her official capacity as California attorney general, said “it is a shame that Harris is siding with state discrimination and bigotry by choosing to actively defend this outdated law.”

“She could have declined to use taxpayer resources to defend [California Penal Code] Section 647 (b), just as she declined to use the resources of her office to defend Proposition 8 when civil rights activists challenged that similarly prejudiced law in court.”

Doogan said supporters of sex work rights believe that just as Proposition 8’s denial of equal rights to same sex couples was ultimately defeated, bans on the consensual purchase of sexual services will also be sent to “history’s ash heap sooner or later — the only question is when and how.”

“Right now it’s in Judge White’s lap,” Starchild said. “He could go down in history as a Dred Scott judge, or an Obergefell judge. Obviously we hope he will choose the latter.”

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