California Bill Requiring Porn Sites to Verify Users’ Ages Heads to Assembly Floor

By Aliya Kuykendall Published on May 3, 2024

A bill that would require porn websites to verify the ages of visitors is progressing through California’s state legislature. If the bill passes, porn producers and consumers in America’s most populated state would be affected, and the Golden State’s children would be less likely to encounter porn on the internet.

The bill, AB-3080, passed the Assembly Judiciary Committee on Tuesday on a 12-0 vote, with one abstention. A staff member of Republican Juan Alanis, the assemblyman bringing the bill, told The Stream the legislation could go to the Assembly floor as early as next week. If it passes there, it will move to the Senate.

“Requiring age verification on pornography websites is one of the most critical ways we can protect children from content which causes addiction, significantly harms mental health, and normalizes sexual violence,” said Helen Taylor, vice president of impact for the anti-trafficking organization Exodus Cry, who attended the committee hearing to voice her “strong support” for the bill. “With the victory of AB 3080 in the Judiciary Committee today, California lawmakers are showing that they overwhelmingly agree that children deserve to be protected.

“We celebrate this significant win and remain hopeful that this common sense bill will continue to draw strong support from both sides of the aisle, so that it can finally be passed into law.”

Support for the Bill

In a joint statement, Elizabeth Woning, codirector of CHANGED Movement, and Elles Maddry, co-director of Moral Revolution, said an entire generation of young people is being raised with twisted ideas about sexual intimacy, even within marriage, “because they are turning to PornHub for discipleship with devastating effects. AB 3080 acknowledges the harms of porn use to children and seeks to remedy by requiring ID for access. California legislators rarely cross the aisle in Sacramento, but we are praying that partisan sentiments are secondary to protecting children from this exploitation.

“For Christians, sex is an intimate act of bonding between a husband and a wife that allows us to participate in God’s miracle of creating life. Pornography and the culture around it reduce sex to temporary pleasure, like a drug, inviting repeated and even addictive engagement. The explosion of porn use exposes the loneliness and pain that many are in. The mental health crisis among youth partners with this exponential expansion of online use of porn. It’s time to expose the harms of this industry and restrict access to rescue this generation.”

During the committee hearing, Democratic Assemblyman Damon Connolly questioned whether the proposed law would limit free speech. Joseph Kohm, the director of public policy at the Family Policy Alliance, a Colorado-based group promoting social conservatism, said it’s no different than age-verification laws for the purchase of other vices, such as cigarettes.

“If you were to go into a bookstore to buy a piece of pornography that required you to verify your age as being of majority,” he said, “what you’re doing online under this bill to view pornography is the same thing.”

Opposition to the Bill

Alison Boden, executive director of Free Speech Coalition, represents the websites that would be impacted by the bill. She has held leadership, marketing and technology positions at several porn sites and is board president for an online adult industry support network. At the hearing, she said, “FSC remains in respectful opposition to the bill due to its remaining constitutional defects and because it’s completely impractical for Californians to verify their age multiple times on individual websites rather than doing it once on their device.”

Boden said a device itself could hypothetically be registered as belonging to a minor. Then porn sites could reject users who are minors based on the device they’re using. This one-time verification would avoid the impracticality of age verification every time a porn website is accessed. Pornhub also advocates this solution.

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Nic McKinley, CEO of the countertrafficking group DeliverFund, previously told The Stream a one-time device verification system is not a good solution, explaining that, “a young child can use a device that is owned by somebody who’s of age.”

Boden said age verification would be off-putting to porn users, who would instead go to sites that do not respect U.S. law, increasing the number of people who might access things like child porn on sites that operate illegally. But McKinley said that “any friction that any state can put into the pornography industry writ large is a positive step in the right direction for fighting human trafficking.”

An adult film actress who identified herself by a vulgar stage name said during the public comment portion of the hearing that the bill would “hurt our business,” adding, “I want to keep my job. I love it.”

One Assemblymember Abstained From Voting, Citing “Conflicted Views”

Republican assemblyman Bill Essayli was the one committee member who abstained.

As a former prosecutor, Essayli said, he has concerns about the bill. “I prosecuted a lot of child porn cases and those are not cases that derive from mainstream porn websites,” he said during the hearing. “They come from dark web. They come from peer-to-peer services. There’s really, really disturbing, dark stuff on there, and now with VPNs and stuff, it’s very easy for people to have access, so I have conflicted views.”

Alanis thanked his colleagues for the great discussions on his bill. Video of the hearing can he found here, starting around the 1:08:00 mark and lasting about 37 minutes.

Also on Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court turned away challenges to a similar law in Texas requiring porn websites to verify users’ ages, denying the emergency appeal made by the Free Speech Coalition in a one-sentence decision.

Correction: The joint statement referenced in the article was between CHANGED Movement codirector Elizabeth Woning and Moral Revolution codirector Elles Maddry, not Woning and Exodus Cry. The Stream regrets the errors, which have been corrected in this version.

 

Aliya Kuykendall is a staff writer and proofreader for The Stream. You can follow her on X @AliyaKuykendall and follow The Stream @Streamdotorg.

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