Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’ administration is currently in a legal battle over a newly implemented law that bars children from attending “adult live performances”. Lawyers representing the state have urged a federal judge to dismiss a constitutional challenge to the law filed by operators of the Orlando restaurant Hamburger Mary’s. Hamburger Mary’s, which has hosted drag shows for 15 years including “family friendly” performances, claim the law violates the First Amendment.
Hamburger Mary’s filed a motion for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction against the law, and argued that the new law “prohibits protected speech based on the identity of the speaker” and is vague and overbroad. The motion further stated, “there is no public interest in preventing children from seeing drag shows. There is no leap to be taken from a drag show performance to exposing children to lewd or improper displays.”
However, lawyers for the Attorney General Ashley Moody of Florida have argued that the law does not target drag shows specifically, but instead bars children from attending “adult live performances”. They also claimed that the law’s definition of the performances tracks obscenity standards that have been upheld by the US Supreme Court. The state’s response stated, “It merely requires the exclusion of children for whom the performance would not be age-appropriate. And contrary to HM’s (Hamburger Mary’s) implication, the act does not target drag shows.”
This legal battle arises after the DeSantis administration cracked down on venues in South Florida and Central Florida where children attended drag shows. As a result, the Republican-controlled Legislature passed the new measure. This law also coincides with several bills aimed at transgender people, including bills to prevent treatments such as hormone therapy and puberty blockers for transgender minors, and to prevent transgender men and women from using bathrooms that don’t align with their sex assigned at birth.
In contrast to the new Florida law, a federal judge in Tennessee recently struck down a new law that sought to prevent “adult cabaret entertainment” performances that could be seen by minors, ruled on First Amendment grounds. Lawyers in Moody’s office argued that there is a distinction between the Florida and Tennessee laws because the Florida law prohibits exposing children to “adult live performances” regardless of who is performing, and is not aimed solely at “entertainers like topless dancers, strippers, male or female impersonators.”
Hamburger Mary’s argues that Florida already has laws in place preventing minors from being exposed to “lewd, sexually explicit, obscene, vulgar or indecent displays”. The motion filed by Hamburger Mary’s also stated, “It is unquestionable that the state’s intent is to stop children from attending drag shows at restaurants, performances, bars and any other events. As such, the statute is viewpoint discriminatory because it targets drag queens.” The new law defines “adult live performances” as any show or exhibition that “depicts or simulates nudity, sexual conduct, sexual excitement, or specific sexual activities, lewd conduct, or the lewd exposure of prosthetic or imitation genitals or breasts.”
The law forbids local governments from issuing public permits for events that could expose children to the targeted activities and allows state regulators to suspend or revoke licenses of establishments that violate the law. The legal battle between Hamburger Mary’s and the Florida Governor’s administration continues.