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City council rejects porn bill

By Michael J. Garrison

The Cambridge City Council last Monday defeated a motion to reconsider an earlier 5-4 decision that will keep an anti-pornography measure off November's ballot.

The referendum, sponsored by the Women's Alliance Against Pornography (WAAP), would allow people to sue the manufacturers and distributors of pornography for damages on a claim of civil rights violation, according to the Sept. 12 issue of the Cambridge Chronicle.

Because the petition received the requisite number of signatures, Massachusetts state law requires the City Council either to pass the bill into law or to place it on November's ballot.

But the council decided to kill the measure because it "is almost surely unconstitutional," Mayor Francis Duehay said.

A similar situation occurred two years ago when the council failed to put the "Nuclear Free Cambridge" referendum on the ballot. The courts later ordered Cambridge to put that measure to a popular vote.

"Very similar issues arose in the Nuclear Free Cambridge context," said City Councilman David E. Sullivan '74, who made the motion to reconsider the measure. Sullivan asserted that Cambridge has no right to deny any motion because of constitutionality and that the courts had set this standard.

Duehay disagreed: "The difference [between the referendums], it seems to me, is considerable. This very referendum has had a recent court ruling declaring it is unconstitutional." The council had only assumed the Nuclear Free Cambridge issue was unconstitutional, he explained. "It would be a frivolous action of the City Council to place [the pornography measure] on the ballot."

"There is no question that the City Council has the power to refuse to place a referendum on the ballot that is beyond the power [of the city] to enact," said City Solicitor Russell Higley in the Chronicle.

"It is simply a question of the City Council's legal duty," Sullivan said. Sullivan did not support the merits of the referendum, calling it "a blatant violation of civil rights of citizens ... [amounting to] mind control." He voted to place it on the ballot because "to keep it off the ballot would deny those same rights."

After some discussion, Duehay ruled that the public would be allowed to speak on the bill before the reconsideration vote was taken.

WAAP Spokesman Suzanne Melendy told the council, "We have followed the letter and spirit of the law in Cambridge ... [and we] would like the Cambridge City Council to do the same .... [the decision not to reconsider] has built a wall between the City Council and their constituents."

Following the second vote of the City Council, Melendy called the result "clearly illegal" and threatened to sue in order to gain access to the ballot, according to the Sept. 19 Chronicle.

The major opponent of the measure is the Feminist Anti-Censorship Task Force (FACT). FACT member Janice Irvine said at the meeting, "We continue to believe this is a very dangerous and misguided ordinance, ... [however, we] feel that ballot access is a very important right." She urged the council to reconsider their vote.

Sullivan said that FACT has taken a "commendable position ... consistent on civil rights."

Brookline city official Michael Christian told the council, "The people of Brookline would be somewhat surprised, if not shocked, if Cambridge did not follow state law" and place the measure on the ballot.

Throughout the debate, most of the councilors only listened. The final vote of the council was 5-3 against reconsideration. Councilors Sullivan, Saundra Graham, and Alfred Vellucci voted in favor of the referendum. Councilor Alice Wolf, who had voted for the measure last week, was not present at Monday's meeting because of the Jewish holiday.