Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Reid Tries Nixing a Nevada Vice

If you thought it got a little chilly last night, you weren't imagining things.

Harry Reid, Senator from Nevada, told his home state legislators they need to outlaw prostitution. In the last state where it's still legal.

OK... stop laughing.

The Las Vegas Sun called Reid's challenge a "real showstopper."

World Magazine said his surprise met with dead silence from his audience of Nevada politicos.

The founder of Hookers for Jesus - I'm not making this up - said crime would actually increase in Las Vegas, the only place in Nevada where it's currently illegal. Apparently, making prostitution a crime across the state could actually stoke the vast underground red-light district in Sin City, since the loss of legalized adultery at the state's thirty-some brothels could automatically drive perverts to where the rest of the action is.

For the record, despite its woefully misguided name, Hookers for Jesus is actually an organization serving people trying to extricate themselves from the sex trade. And yes, Nevada allows both female and male prostitutes.

Just as bizarre, however, has been the scramble by politicians of all stripes to distance themselves from Reid's remarks, which actually comprised a small part of a much larger speech on the economy. Both Democratic and Republican lawmakers have dismissed the idea of banning prostitution state-wide as a local issue, and not something to be imposed on all communities throughout Nevada.

Sin as an Economic Problem

Reid says he felt the time had come to address the issue because it has become an economic stumbling block for the state. He relayed to his audience a recent incident in which a potential corporate relocation to Nevada fell through after the company owner became uneasy about moving to the last state allowing something as sordid as prostitution.

In an era where companies have become extremely sensitive to public relations and the perceptions consumers have of them, Reid claims, legalized prostitution may be holding Nevada back in the court of public opinion. And, in turn, economic development.

Of course, that is a nebulous assertion that will be difficult for anybody to prove. Nevada has other issues which give pause to most of corporate America. First, of course, is the nefarious image gambling - legalized or not - continues to hold on the state, despite widely reported studies showing the old crime families now have less control over the casinos than ever.

Second involves the continuing saga of limited water availability in the state's parched desert landscape. Then there's the region's intense climate and relative isolation. On the menu of choice relocation sites, plenty of other states vie for contention with far more amenities than Nevada can hope for, even with prostitution made illegal (and forced underground).

And that's the real issue, isn't it? Already, most tourists to Las Vegas have no idea fornication for pay isn't legal along the Strip. Yet everybody knows it happens. If you want to, take my word for it: I Googled the topic for proof that it flourishes in the town made famous for gambling and licentiousness. Just because it's technically illegal doesn't mean it doesn't exist. And whether prostitution is legal or not, for decades, Nevada has billed itself as the place where morality takes a perpetual holiday. It'll take a lot more than legislation to make fornication unpopular there.

I wonder, too, if with online hook-up sites, including social networking sites, widening the pool of free illicit intimacy, how much longer might sex for a price be as viable a business as it is now? Taking a gander at the entrepreneurial girlie emporiums on Nevada's version of family news sites, legalized prostitution today doesn't appear to be all that glamorous. Truck drivers and frat boys may drive the low-end legal businesses, while celebrities and other A-listers probably drive the high-end escort business; and which do you think will be forced to close if prostitution were made illegal?

Will Making it Illegal Make it Go Away?

Not that it shouldn't be. True, you can't legislate morality, but prostitution is more than just immoral and unethical. Indeed, prostitution in any form provides a gateway for human trafficking, physical and emotional abuse, and other crimes. Even when it's "regulated" in places like Nevada. There are valid reasons why most societies around the world outlaw sex for money. Governments have no business endorsing such destructive practices. And, at least this once, Reid is right in calling for its prohibition in his home state. Even if he says it's purely for economic reasons.

Yeah, sure, Harry - wink, wink. The problem with somebody like Harry Reid calling for making prostitution illegal is that his credibility as an economic expert - or even a moral crusader - has already fallen to within the same level of the fantasy ranch owners he wants to put out of business. It's too easy not to take him seriously - on this issue, or any issue.

Actually, all he's probably done is remind those of us with moral fiber of the reasons why Nevada doesn't make for the most ideal family vacation destination. And... for those without any moral fiber, he's reminded them of why Nevada doesn't make for the most ideal family vacation destination, too.

I've never had a desire to visit Nevada, except maybe to tour Hoover Dam. The state's fixation on celebrating vices has clouded my perception of the place, and legalized prostitution simply adds to that sleazy mix. Removing it won't make Nevada any more appealing to me, nor will it increase the "family fun" spin state tourism officials have recently been trying to cultivate. You won't be sinning simply by visiting Las Vegas, of course, but as long as your moral compass works, you should get bored there pretty fast.

If Reid had played his cards right all these years, maybe people in the Silver State would be taking him more seriously (and yes, the pun is intended). But then, if he'd been playing his cards right, he wouldn't have gotten very far in Nevada with such strong ethics.

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