By Hugh Hefner.
In 1965 Indiana police arrested Charles Cotner and charged him with an “abominable and detestable crime against nature.” His offense? Consensual anal sex with his wife. He faced 14 years in prison. When I first learned about Cotner’s case—his attorney wrote to PLAYBOY to seek our assistance—I was appalled. His wife, who signed the complaint after the couple had argued, changed her mind and asked to have the charges dropped. But the judge refused, and Cotner served nearly three years in prison before the Playboy Foundation was able to free him.
While working to strike down absurd sex laws like the one that landed Cotner behind bars, I learned a lot about the people who want to control what goes on in American bedrooms. Those who oppose us have always had one thing in common: They are on a crusade to eliminate sex not intended for the purpose of procreation.
You might think this story has nothing to do with you or your life in America in 2012. But sadly you would be wrong. The forces that put Charles Cotner in jail are the same forces at work right now. If you want a perfect example, take a look at the controversy that continues to dog the rights of gay men and women to marry. The fight for gay marriage is, in reality, a fight for all of our rights. Without it, we will turn back the sexual revolution and return to an earlier, puritanical time.
I remember that time. When I wrote The Playboy Philosophy in the early 1960s, both oral and anal sex were illegal in 49 of the 50 states. In 10 of those states, sodomy—which was variously defined but could, in some states, include oral sex—carried a maximum sentence of 20 years. Citizens in Connecticut who engaged in oral sex faced 30 years in prison—60 years for people who lived in North Carolina. In Nevada it could mean life behind bars. It was a time when 37 states outlawed sex between unmarried people and 45 criminalized adultery. Two states even banned heavy petting.
This is the oppressive world some would have us return to. These moralists say that if sex doesn’t beget children, it’s a sin. Your sex life, your privacy rights and the rights of men and women everywhere are casualties of this belief. In Arizona, under a proposed bill women who hoped to have their health insurer cover birth control would have been forced to provide their employer with proof they were taking the pill for a medical condition—not just for the purpose of avoiding pregnancy. A new Kansas law allows a pharmacist to refuse to sell someone contraception on the grounds that such a sale could violate the pharmacist’s religious beliefs. Similar laws already exist in Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi and South Dakota. Lawmakers in Michigan are pushing one of the most restrictive anti-abortion bills in decades, while in Texas and Pennsylvania people continue to demand the defunding of Planned Parenthood centers, which provide health care to countless women. Across America these conservatives continue to assault the rights of gays, whether by denying them the right to marry or, as in Kansas, by attempting to empower landlords, business owners and employers to discriminate against gays on religious grounds. And earlier this year, when a Republican legislator in Virginia told CNN “sodomy is not a civil right,” I thought of Charles Cotner and wondered how much time we have left before we lose all the advances of the sexual revolution.
Nearly 50 years ago in the pages of this magazine I warned that “when religion rather than reason dictates legislation, do not expect logic with your law.” Today, in every instance of sexual rights falling under attack, you’ll find legislation forced into place by people who practice discrimination disguised as religious freedom. Their goal is to dehumanize everyone’s sexuality and reduce us to using sex for the sole purpose of perpetuating our species. To that end, they will criminalize your entire sex life.
This is a religious nation, but it is also a secular one. For decades the American people have found a way to balance religious beliefs with secular freedoms. We have enjoyed freedom of religion as well as freedom from religion. These need not be incompatible. No one should have to subjugate their religious freedom, and no one should have their personal freedoms infringed. This is America and we must protect the rights of all Americans.