DALLAS -- Facing down the threat of a First Amendment lawsuit, the Dallas City Council narrowly moved to ban a sex business expo from operating at the city-owned convention center on Wednesday morning.
The measure passed by a single vote, 8-to-7. The expo was set to return to Dallas in May 2016.
The vote to bar the expo came after 19 community leaders from churches and other interests spoke out against the Exxxotica Expo in the council chambers. Only one person -- J. Handy, the director of Three Expo, producers of the Exxxotica Expo -- spoke in favor of the expo remaining at the convention center.
Wednesday afternoon, the producers of Exxxotica said in a statement they plan to file an injunction against "this clearly unconstitutional ruling" said they are continuing with the planning of the event.
“We absolutely have the right to produce the event at the convention center and the citizens of Dallas have a right to attend, and after today’s testimonies, we realize the City of Dallas understands those rights.” Handy said in the statement. “It’s just unfortunate that their personal, religious and conservative beliefs compelled them to make decision which obviously violates the law.”
The debate around Exxxotica set up as morality vs. free speech.
"It’s certainly not anything that we ever looked forward to," Handy said. "But that being said, it’s our duty to stand up and fight for our rights and what we believe in."
Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings himself requested a resolution be drawn up to bar the expo from the convention center. He said in a statement released Saturday the event "doesn't belong in Dallas."
On Wednesday, he told the council what led him to that conclusion.
“And then I find out, on the website, there’s a place called 'The Dungeon,' where women are tied up and whipped,” Rawlings said. “And I just said, ‘You’ve crossed the line. You’ve crossed the line. I can’t be for that."
The three-day adult expo, which bills itself as "the largest adult event in the USA dedicated to love and sex," came to Dallas last August 7-9 and was met with some protests, saying the event's sponsors included online escort services, which contribute to sex trafficking.
Alice Murray, president of the civic group Dallas Citizens Council, spoke emotionally about her own life experience during the meeting.
“I’ve never spoken of it, but when something happens to you as a young woman that you have no control of, it changes your life forever,” Murray said.
Previous to Wednesday’s session, the council was informed by the city attorney that taking a stand against pornography — which enjoys First Amendment protection — could lead to a lawsuit.
Councilman Mark Clayton was one of the seven councilmembers who voted to allow the event. He suggested the city use the money to support the causes of sexual assault and human trafficking, instead of a lawsuit.
"We just basically, on a moral stand, gave away money that we could be using to address people who are in the most vulnerable positions," he said.
Councilman Scott Griggs also voted against barring the expo from the convention center. He told the council that their vote against the event was the best promotion the Exxxotica Expo could get.
“The Dallas City Council is now the biggest PR machine for this event,” Griggs said.
Promoter J. Handy agreed.
“Totally agree with him," he said. "He was dead-on."
Mayor Rawlings pointed out that his job is not necessarily to avoid lawsuits, but to make the best decisions he can.
The council has knowingly walked into lawsuits before when it banned gas drilling rights and plastic bags. Wednesday, they did it again.
"At this point, we are well within our rights to be here," Handy said.