A federal judge in Florida temporarily blocked a new law allowing the state to penalize businesses that admit children to “adult live performances” such as drag shows.
Judge Gregory A. Presnell of the Federal District Court in Orlando issued a preliminary injunction blocking the new law, which went into effect last month.
The law does not mention drag shows by name, but lawmakers made it clear that they were targeting such performances, characterizing the measure as one intended to protect children.
The Republican-controlled Legislature passed the measure in April. Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican who is running for president and has made anti-L.G.B.T.Q. policies central to his agenda, signed the legislation in late May. It empowers the state to fine businesses that violate its terms, or to revoke or suspend their licenses.
“We believe in letting kids be kids,” Mr. DeSantis said in a speech to a conservative Christian group in Orlando last month. “And some of this stuff with like, you know, we saw with these drag shows, some of this adult entertainment, not necessarily my cup of tea.”
Even before the law’s passage, his administration tried to revoke the liquor licenses of some venues that had allowed children into drag shows — a penalty that would effectively put those venues out of business.
The Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation filed a complaint in February against an Orlando theater that had hosted a Christmas drag show. At least three children attended with their parents, but undercover agents saw no lewd behavior in the performances.
Hamburger Mary’s, a restaurant that regularly hosts drag shows in Orlando, sued the department in May, claiming that the law was too vague and that it would violate its constitutional right to free speech.
Judge Presnell’s ruling in favor of Hamburger Mary’s on Friday found that existing obscenity laws already gave the state the authority necessary to protect children. In the 24-page ruling, he also found that the state failed to narrowly tailor the law, and that its broad attempt to regulate content would very likely violate the First Amendment’s free speech protections.
Why It Matters
The ruling was a victory for supporters of L.G.B.T.Q. rights, who have sued over similar restrictions in other states. This month, a federal judge struck down a similar law in Tennessee aimed at restricting drag shows because it violated the First Amendment rights of performers and venues.
In Florida, civil rights organizations have repeatedly sued the DeSantis administration over laws involving the L.G.B.T.Q. community. In a separate case on Wednesday, a federal judge in Tallahassee struck down rules restricting Medicaid coverage for gender-transition care. The same judge issued a preliminary ruling against the state this month in yet another case, this one focused on a new law banning transition care for minors.
Mr. DeSantis has also enacted laws restricting the discussion of personal pronouns in schools and forcing people to use certain bathrooms.
Melissa J. Stewart, one of the lawyers representing Hamburger Mary’s, called Friday’s ruling “an incredible first win” in the drag show case.
“This preliminary injunction will protect the rights of not just drag performers in Florida but everyone else who would be affected by this law,” she said.
The Department of Business and Professional Regulation could appeal Judge Presnell’s preliminary injunction to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit in Atlanta — which often rules in Florida’s favor — while the litigation continues in the lower trial court.
The department did not respond to a request for comment on Friday afternoon.
Nicholas Nehamas contributed reporting.