Why Are Brothels Illegal?

by Laurence M. Vance
Nov. 23, 2012

In contrast to the boring and predictable presidential candidates,there are some unusually colorful candidates who somehow manage to getinto office each time there is an election. Actor Arnold Schwarzeneggerwas twice elected to the California governorship. Professional wrestler Jesse Ventura was elected governor ofMinnesota.Singer Sony Bono was a member of the U.S. House ofRepresentatives until his life was tragically cut short in a skiingaccident. Comedian Al Franken is currently the junior U.S. senator fromMinnesota.

Sometimes a candidate who dies during an election campaign gets votedinto office anyway. The most famous example is Melvin Carnahan(1934--2000), the former governor of Missouri who was electedposthumously to the U.S. Senate. In the county in Florida where I live,the deceased tax collector EarlK. Wood, who died from naturalcauses at age 96 just a few weeks before the election, was recentlyreelected to a 12th term as Orange County Tax Collector by a margin of56percent to 44percent.

The most interesting person to be voted into office in the recentelection has got to be brothel owner Lance Gilman. He won62percent of the vote for a seat on the county commission inStorey County, Nevada.

Gilman is the current owner of Nevada's infamous Mustang Ranchbrothel in Storey County, east of Reno. Originally opened in 1971, itbecame Nevada's largest and most profitable brothel before beingseized by the federal government in 1999 after its owner was convictedfor tax fraud and racketeering. After the furniture, paintings, andaccessories were auctioned off in 2002, the buildings were purchased byGilman and reopened in a new location in 2005.Hewon the right to the name and branding in 2006.

Although brothels are illegal in most parts of the United States, it isobviously not the case in Storey County, Nevada. And it is not the casein other parts of Nevada either. Licensed, regulated brothelprostitution is permitted in 10 of Nevada's 17 counties, althoughbrothels are currently operating in only 8 of them. Under state law,Nevada counties with a population of under 400,000 are allowed tolicense or prohibit brothels, but incorporated cities may prohibitbrothels in counties where they are legal. Because prostitution isillegal in Nevada's more heavily populated counties (such as ClarkCounty, home to Las Vegas), the brothels are generally located in ruralareas.

But why are brothels illegal in Nevada's other counties and whyare they illegal everywhere else in the United States?

Now, for the record, I don't patronize brothels, don't wantto patronize brothels, don't want a brothel in my neighborhood,don't know anyone who patronizes brothels, don't recommendthat anyone patronize brothels, and would not want any women I know towork in a brothel.

But neither do I believe in using the power of government to prohibit,regulate, or punish voluntary, consensual, peaceful behavior that myneighbors, friends, and I may not personally approve of. That is thedifference between libertarians and statists of all varieties --Democrat, Republican, liberal, conservative, progressive, and moderate.Libertarians believe that consenting adults have the fundamental rightto do anything that's peaceful as long as they don't aggressagainst someone else's person or property while they do it.

But if frequenting a brothel on private property with the owner'spermission and paying for sex with a willing participant is engaging ina peaceful activity agreed to by all parties, then why are brothelsother than the few operating in Nevada illegal?

The main objection from most people would be that patronizing brothelsis immoral.

But there are serious problems with using the power of government tolegislate and regulate morality and prohibit and crusade againstimmorality.

To begin with, many Americans, if not a majority of Americans, wouldunite in saying that adultery, fornication, homosexuality, andcohabitation are immoral -- even if they themselves engage in anyof these things. Yet what percentage of those Americans would call forgovernment at any level to outlaw and punish any of them? Rather smallI suspect. And what about other immoral things such as lying, gluttony,lust, greed, envy, pride, and drunkenness? Does anyone really thinkthat the government should concern itself with them?

So why are brothels illegal?

Another objection raised is that, unlike adultery, fornication,homosexuality, and cohabitation, the immoral behavior in brothelsinvolves the exchanging of money. But here we have another problem.Frequenting strip clubs, producing or purchasing pornographic magazinesor movies, and gambling, which are all generally viewed as immoral, allinvolve money as well. Yet in most areas of the country, one can visita strip club, view pornography, or gamble -- all withoutinterference from the government as long as certain guidelines arefollowed. In fact, in 43 states (and the District of Columbia) thestate government runs a gambling enterprise -- the state lottery.

So why are brothels illegal?

It appears that the only reason that people and governments wantbrothels to be illegal is that they combine sexual immorality with theexchanging of money. But here we run into another problem. Thereis little difference as far as morality is concerned between paying $50to a brothel for 15 minutes of a woman's time and paying $50 fordinner and a movie for 15 minutes of a woman's time.

So why are brothels illegal?

The real reasons brothels are illegal have nothing to do with theirbeing a danger (supposedly) to public health, safety, or morals.

Brothels are illegal because government's attempts to legislateand regulate morality and prohibit and crusade against immorality arewoefully inconsistent, arbitrary, and nonsensical.

Brothels are illegal because of the failure to distinguish betweenvices and crimes.

Brothels are illegal because of the failure to discern that every crimeneeds a victim.

Brothels are illegal because of the failure to recognize the right ofconsenting adults to do whatever they want on their property or withthe owner's permission on someone else's property.

Brothels are illegal because of the failure to understand that it isnot the purpose of government at any level -- federal, state, orlocal -- to regulate or monitor Americans' sexual activities.

Brothels are illegal because of the failure to acknowledge that it isthe business of families, friends, business associates, ministers,religious organizations, and social institutions to shapeAmericans' moral values and educate them about the nature ofbrothels -- not that of the government.

Brothels are illegal because of the failure to adopt the freedomphilosophy.

Brothels are illegal because puritanical busybodies, nanny-statists,and government bureaucrats think it is their business to mind everyoneelse's business.

It goes without saying that in questioning why brothels are illegal, noadvocate of a free society is condoning or excusing in any way humantrafficking, kidnapping, child prostitution, rape, forced prostitution,or the sexual exploitation of women. These things currently occur allover the world even where brothels are illegal.

Brothels need not exist in a free society, but their absence should notresult from governments having made them illegal.
Laurence M. Vance is a columnist and policy adviser for the Future of Freedom Foundation, an associated scholar of the Ludwig von Mises Institute, and a columnist, blogger, and book reviewer at LewRockwell.com. He is also the author of Christianity and War and Other Essays against the Warfare State and The War on Drugs Is a War on Freedom. Visit his website: www.vancepublications.com. Send him e-mail.

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