5 of the Most Regressive and Weird Laws Still in Practice in the South
There are a lot of dumb laws in states throughout the U.S. State constitutions can be centuries old, so silly and archaic laws like those forbidding horses and donkeys from sleeping in bathtubs tend to be disregarded or overwritten by federal laws. But there are plenty of outrageous policies being implemented today, in the name of religious protection, or common decency, or whatever else proponents come up with to justify revoking civil and human rights. Silly laws certainly aren’t limited to the Southern states alone, but the supremacy of Christianity and fear of people of color are culturally pervasive in this region, despite blue cities and liberal pockets that have become havens for more progressive Southerners and out-of-towners.
Today we may view laws like one in Kentucky that forbids attorneys and government workers from dueling, as backwards. But they were taken quite seriously when they were first written. Here’s hoping these five are seen as equally insane one day.
1. Sex toy purchases are illegal in Alabama.
This rule has been embarrassing Alabamians ever since the Anti-Obscenity Enforcement Act passed in 1998. You can receive a $10,000 fine and a year in jail if you're caught buying or selling a vibrator the first time, and up to 10 years for a second offense. The ACLU tried to take the case up with the Supreme Court in 2005, but the court declined to hear the case.
2. Sharia law is officially condemned.
In Texas and Arkansas, where the Muslim population is 1% and 2% respectively, common sense suggests that Christian Southerners are not much in danger of being overtaken by hyper-conservative Islamic law. But both states recently approved legislation against it, and momentum seems to be building in other Southern states for similar policies. The declarations against Sharia law are based solely on fearmongering, meant to bully Muslims living in those states.
As the Southern Poverty Law Center explains, “the mass hysteria surrounding a so-called threat of Sharia law in the United States is largely the work of anti-Muslim groups such as the American Freedom Law Center and ACT for America, an SPLC-designated hate group.”
3. Voter ID laws across the region punish the poor for being poor.
States that require citizens to show ID at the poll station are rolling back the progress made on voting access since the end of Jim Crow. Obtaining an ID card can involve time, money, access, and mobility that many poor people of color lack, especially the elderly. “It’s all about the political will,” Anita Earls of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice told NBC. “If you look at a map where African-American populations are the largest, it’s basically all of the Southern states, and that’s where most of these new voting restrictions have been enacted.”
4. New anti-LGBT laws revoke the rights of gay, bi, trans citizens.
A breathtaking wave of over 100 bills slashing civil rights for gay, bi and trans people have been introduced to state legislatures since 2010 alone, as the Huffington Post rounds up, and many have passed. Here’s a small sample: “Mississippi lets any person or business deny services to same-sex couples because of religious objections. In North Carolina, the governor signed a law banning cities from passing LGBT anti-discrimination ordinances and barring transgender people from using bathrooms that match their gender identity. Tennessee also has a ‘bathroom bill,’ plus a bill that lets mental health professionals refuse to treat LGBT patients.”
There have been many more attempts at these kinds of laws throughout the region, catalogued by the ACLU.
5. Alabama tried to chase out undocumented immigrants.
HB-56, set into motion in September 2011, cracked down on illegal immigration in what many believed at the time was the harshest measure of its kind in any state. It required Alabama schools to track and report the legal status of children enrolled there. As a result, Alabama schools saw a mass exodus of Hispanic students, whose parents in many cases fled to other states in fear that their immigration status would be shared with ICE. And that was largely the point: the law's chief sponsor, State Rep. Micky Hammon, promised undocumented immigrants in Alabama that he would “make it difficult for them to live here, so they will deport themselves.” Challenges from Eric Holder’s Justice Department thankfully nullified much of the law by 2013, but if another state tried to pass a similar bill in Trump's America, Jeff Sessions might not be inclined to fight it.