Prosecute pornography? Why Mitt Romney and President Obama can't agree

Published: Thursday, Sept. 13 2012 4:57 p.m. MDT

Composite photo of President Barack Obama, left, and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, right.

Associated Press

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Patrick A. Trueman takes the long view in his fight for the enforcement of federal obscenity laws against pornography. The Obama administration does not enforce obscenity laws, so the CEO and president of Morality in Media gathered a coalition of 127 organizations two years ago to launch a War on Illegal Pornography. Trueman hopes the effort eventually leads to enforcement.

Trueman now finds his multifaceted and complex “war" distilled down to unprecedented simplicity: Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney recently said he would enforce the obscenity laws that President Obama has long ignored. In other words, it's now crystal-clear the Romney and Obama apply contrasting paradigms to the issue of obscenity enforcement, leading Trueman and other anti-pornography groups to believe a Romney victory represents the best hope for federal obscenity laws to be enforced prior to 2017.

Last month at the Republican National Convention, the GOP adopted strong language in its official platform asserting, “Current laws on all forms of pornography and obscenity need to be vigorously enforced.” The very next week, however, Democrats declined to insert a similar statement into their platform.

“Should (Republican presidential nominee Mitt) Romney be elected,” Trueman said, “we want to be able to remind him that his own platform says these laws should be enforced. … We want to be able to say to Romney, ‘Look, we’ve got hundreds of thousands of Americans that have been harmed by pornography. We need something done, and your platform says you’ll do it.’”

Trueman was already receiving positive vibes about obscenity enforcement from Team Romney even before the August addition to the GOP platform. In fact, earlier this year the Romney campaign reached out to Trueman with an invitation from Alex Wong, Romney’s director of foreign, defense and judicial policy.

“Mr. Wong invited me to the headquarters of the Romney campaign in Boston,” Trueman recalled. “The meeting went very well: We outlined the areas where obscenity where obscenity is prohibited by current federal law — on the Internet, on cable and satellite television, in hotels and motels, etc. — and Mr. Wong assured us that Romney is with us 100 percent and that he would reinstitute prosecutions of obscenity."

Trueman initially responded with skepticism to Wong's assurancres, because during the time Romney served on the Marriott board from 1992-2002 and again in 2009-11, the hotel chain sold pay-per-view pornography to its guests. (Two weeks after Romney resigned from Marriott's board in 2011, the hotel chain announced it would begin phasing out in-room "adult entertainment.")

"(Wong) said that, notwithstanding (the association with Marriott hotels), Romney has specifically spoken about enforcing these laws," Trueman said. "So we’re glad to hear it, and we believe it.”

Given Romney’s apparent enthusiasm and Obama’s reluctance to enforce existing obscenity laws, pornography may at first glance appear to be a highly partisan issue. Yet Trueman believes such an analysis ultimately falls prey to overgeneralization.

“We’re a non-partisan group, and even though President Obama and his attorney general have refused to enforce these laws, we know that many Democrats support enforcement of federal obscenity laws,” he said. “And in fact, we’ve had Diane Feinstein, a liberal senator from California, and others go on record through our initiatives to say they support vigorous enforcement of these laws."

Indeed, in April 2011 Feinstein and five other Senate Democrats joined several dozen of their Republican colleagues in signing a letter denouncing hardcore porn.

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