On the heels of the depressing news that the French authorities have reverted back to their usual custom of prosecuting speech, here’s something I learned today via Kevin Drum: America used to consider the mere discussion of gay marriage “obscene” and therefore illegal in many contexts.
Writing for the LA Times, David Savage lets us know that a gay publication called ONE had to fight all the way to the Supreme Court for its right to free speech, even though it featured zero porn or suggestive imagery:
Yet in an era when FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover was routing out “sex deviates” from the government and homosexuality was a crime in every state, the journal quickly drew negative attention, culminating with a U.S. Post Office ban of the magazine as “obscene.” The cover story of the first issue censored by the postmaster proved decades ahead of its time, asking “Homosexual Marriage?”
By being declared as “obscene,” the magazine was illegal to be mailed to consumers, which pretty much defeats the purpose of a magazine pre-Internet. Fortunately, the Supreme Court ruled in ONE’s favor, resulting in one of the least-known landmarks in gay rights history.
But this happened in the country described by friend and foe alike as the country most dedicated to free-speech rights (our enemies obviously think that it’s scandalous that we allow speech they don’t approve of). First Amendment rights that we take for granted today could just as easily be taken away. Liberals opposed to free speech and who are advocating for censorship of Charlie Hebdo should note well: one day, those same speech regulations you support now, may be used against you or causes you back.