US Supreme Court puts Florida’s ban on drag shows in front of children on hold

The United States Supreme Court building is seen in Washington, U.S., October 4, 2023. REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein Licensed Rights Acquire

WASHINGTON, Nov 16 (Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday refused to reinstate a Florida law signed by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis banning “lewd” drag shows in front of children.

The justices rejected a request by Florida officials to narrow a judge’s pause on the law to just one plaintiff — an Orlando restaurant called Hamburger Mary’s — instead of upholding their statewide moratorium on the measure.

Three of the court’s six conservative justices — Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch — indicated they sided with the Florida authorities and would grant their request.

Orlando-based U.S. District Judge Gregory Presnell blocked the measure in June, ruling that it likely violated the promise of free speech in the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment because its broad prohibitions were ill-defined and risked barring constitutionally protected expression.

Hamburger Mary hosts what they call family-friendly drag shows. The restaurant sued DeSantis and other state officials in May to stop enforcement of the law, which would have penalized restaurants and other establishments that stage drag shows deemed indecent with children present.

DeSantis, a candidate for the Republican nomination to challenge Democratic President Joe Biden in the 2024 U.S. election, signed the measure into law in May as part of a package of bills he says are aimed at protecting children, which also include law banning sex-reassignment surgeries on minors.

A page on the Florida governor’s official website says the bills aim to “protect the innocence of Florida’s children,” adding that “Florida’s children deserve to have a childhood free from indoctrinating and confusing concepts such as gender identity, obsessive pronouns and men competing in women’s sports.”

The anti-drag show measure, called the Child Protection Act, allows the state to fine or revoke the liquor license of any establishment that admits minors to a performance that “simulates nudity, sexual behavior, or specific sexual activities” or depicts “lewd behavior . “

Drag often involves “exaggeratedly feminine clothing, make-up and hairstyle” worn by a man, Hamburger Mary’s said in the lawsuit. The suit describes drag as a tradition dating back to ancient Greek theater and early stage productions of William Shakespeare’s plays that was “specifically associated with the LGBTQIA community” for nearly a century before entering “mainstream culture.”

Presnell, appointed by former Democratic President Bill Clinton, suspended the law statewide on First Amendment grounds.

Florida officials asked the Atlanta-based 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to partially lift a lower court’s nationwide block on the law — applying the relief only to Hamburger Mary’s — while the state pursues a formal appeal of Presnell’s order. The 11th Circuit rejected the request, prompting officials to seek emergency relief at the U.S. Supreme Court, which has a 6-3 conservative majority.

Lawyers representing the restaurant urged the judges to reject the request, noting among other things that “Florida already has constitutional laws that prevent children from viewing sexually explicit material.”

Florida’s law is one of dozens of measures passed across the country this year — almost all introduced by Republicans — that have been deemed anti-LGBT by the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the largest LGBT advocacy organization in the United States. .

Reporting by John Kruzel; Editing by Will Dunham

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