Defining depravity downwards in Deutschland

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Der Spiegel‘s English-language bulletin reports that conservative deputies on the Agricultural Affairs committee of the Bundestag have introduced legislation banning sex with animals. I never knew the farm beat for German reporters was so, so … so edgy?

Let’s pause for a  moment to contemplate the work of government. Courage mon amie … be brave and join me for a look at the article “Germany to Ban Sex with Animals”:

The German government plans to ban zoophilia — sex with animals — as part of an amendment to the country’s animal protection law, but faces a backlash from the country’s zoophile community, estimated to number over 100,000. Zoophilia was legalized in Germany in 1969 and animal protection groups have been lobbying for a ban in a campaign that has been fuelled by heated debate in Internet forums in recent years.

Now the center-right government wants to outlaw using animals “for personal sexual activities or making them available to third parties for sexual activities and thereby forcing them to behave in ways that are inappropriate to their species,” said Hans-Michael Goldmann, chairman of the parliament’s Agricultural Committee. In the future, having sex with an animal could be punished with a fine of up to €25,000 ($32,400).

The article continues with a response from Michael Kiok, who is identified as chairman of zoophile pressure group ZETA (Zoophile Engagement for Tolerance and Information). Mr. Kiok appears to be channeling Harvey Fierstein and one can hear echoes of “I just want to be loved, is that so wrong?” in his arguments.

He argues the new law is unfair telling Spiegel: “We see animals as partners and not as a means of gratification. We don’t force them to do anything.” Mr Kiok goes on to describe his relationship with an “Alsatian called Cessie” and argues that the cruelty animals undergo as they are prepared for slaughter in the meat packing business should be addressed before the police come looking for him. The author rounds out the story with a summary of European laws banning zoophilia — illegal just about everywhere but Denmark — and this scientific nugget:

Sexual research in the 1940s suggested that 5 to 8 percent of men and 3 to 5 percent of women engaged in zoophilia. “That would put the figure in Germany at 1.6 million but that’s definitely too high. Taking a wild guess, I’d say it’s well over 100,000,” said Kiok.

From what I have seen, this legislation appears to follow a February 2012 article in the Frankfurter Rundschau. Its article “Verbot von Sex mit Tieren gefordert” reported on the efforts of an animal welfare office in Hesse to criminalize zoophilia in light of her experiences in working on farms. This story has also been an occasion of journalistic fun — some of the French accounts of this story I have read are a delight. “Wink, wink, nudge, nudge … What can you expect from the Germans.” The Mail and other English newspapers also have fun with this story. The Guardian has the best, most complete story, I’ve seen so far and it is written in a matter of fact tone that attempts to keep a straight face — yet the Minister of Agriculture’s face is prominently plastered a top the story.

The Guardian‘s thorough reporting brings out the information that the zoophilia group, ZETA, has 100 members and gives details about Herr Kiok.

But it is the British tabloid, The Sun who has the best quotes, has the most fun and raises the best question.

Bestiality dropped off the statute books as a crime in 1969 but in recent years incidents of it have mushroomed along with websites promoting it. There are even “erotic zoos” for perverts to visit and abuse animals ranging from llamas to goats. Hans-Michael Goldmann, chairman of the agriculture committee, said the government aimed to forbid using an animal “for individual sexual acts and to outlaw people ‘pimping’ creatures to others for sexual use”.

But pro-zoophilia campaign group ZETA — Zoophiles Commitment to Tolerance and Enlightenment — vowed to challenge any ban on bestiality. Chairman Michael Kiok said: “Mere concepts of morality have no business being law.”

Leave it to the tabloids to be the only forum where issues of ethics and morality are raised in conjunction with this story.

Perhaps this issue is clear there was no need to have an explanation why it is necessary to re-criminalize zoophilia after its having been made legal for 43 years. It is not necessary to explain why Nazi race theory, for example, is repellant and its arguments not disseminated. Yet, I believe Michael Kiok’s assertion that “mere concepts of morality have no business being law” need be addressed.

The Frankfurter Rundschau story raises the issue of mutual consent. Bestiality is wrong because an animal cannot give consent to participation in sexual acts with a human. But should not the ethical and moral tradition that lay behind laws banning bestiality be acknowledged — and perhaps a word or two from an ethicist or moral theologian on why this has always been considered wrong?

In the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) bestiality is a sin. Beginning with the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament passages from  Exodus 22:19, Leviticus 18:23, Leviticus 20:15-16, and Deuteronomy 27:21) the Western religions have held that sexual contact with animals is a form of self-abuse, defiles the body and dishonors God and his creation. It is, to use that wonderfully old fashioned word, an abomination.

While little studied, the current state of medical knowledge classifies zoophilia as an illness. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-III R 1987), zoophilia (bestiality) is a mental disorder in which human beings have sexual desires for animals. The DSM-IV, (1994) placed it under the residual classification “paraphilias not otherwise specified”. Paraphilias are inappropriate sexual deviant fantasies and fetishes, such as bestiality, pedophilia, sadomasochism, and other inappropriate forms of sexual thoughts, urges, and actions.

All of which brings me back to Der Spiegel. There is a hesitancy by the German news weekly to say that this is wrong. Is that the business of a newspaper? Should the moral voice be extinguished in modern newspaper reporting? Is Herr Kiok’s argument that morality should not govern law true?

Der Spiegel appears to think so, as it has framed this story in such a way as to remove the moral element. By not providing contrary voices to the Zoophilia activists, the newspaper does not address the issue as to why this conduct should be governed by law. Popular disgust with the practices under consideration might make such arguments appear superfluous, but when Der Spiegel writes from the philosophical presupposition of antinomianism — the rejection of socially established morality — it concedes the argument to the Michael Kioks.

Zoophilia was illegal for centuries. Has been legal for 43 years, and now will be criminalized once again. Why?

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  • DeaconJohn M. Bresnahan

    Some miscellaneous comments on this subject: Our early Puritans passed laws against bestiality. Which means some of those Puritans weren’t so puritanical after all because laws are only passed to ban actions that are being indulged in.
    It would be interesting to see in the media the attitude to all this of PETA the radical American animal right’s group.

  • sari

    Do Christian biases against bestiality stem from Hebrew Scriptures, George, or more from the idea of natural law? Many Biblical laws are completely ignored by the Christian majority (e.g., certain foods also fall into the category of “abominations”), which suggests that the fundamental reason for the proposed ban is that it makes most people uncomfortable, rather than because it’s explicitly forbidden by their religions. Der Spiegel might have included a line about the Biblical prohibition, but they should refrain from citing that as the driving force behind the legislation.

    • Thomas A. Szyszkiewicz

      Hear, hear!

    • Chris M

      RE – sari:

      Every Christian worth their salt knows that the declarations in the Acts of the Apostles chapter 10 lifted the ban on Christians from eating ‘unclean’ animals as set out in the Old Testament.

  • Byzcat

    Actually, bestiality is not considered a crime in Islam. You just can’t sell a goat to your neighbor for food if you have… Ahem. You get the picture…

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  • http://www.authenticbioethics.blogspot.com AuthenticBioethics

    ALL laws are a reflection of someone’s morality to restrict the actions specifically of those who disagree with that morality. From family rules to traffic regulations to hate crime legislation to freedom of expression rulings, every law is a codification of some morality, targeted against those who dissent from that morality.

    The problem in our society is that we think that passing a law causes the goodness of thing the law is about. Laws should reflect goodness and morality rather than trying to create goodness and morality, but this notion assumes there is something higher than the positive or civil law to which that law should aspire. That there is a higher thing than the law is apparent in people’s fight to change or to resist changing existing laws. And that is where the religion ghost haunts, in my view. Because if there is no God, then the highest law we have is human law, which is subject to change according to who has the power to change it. Plato’s old conundrum of what is Justice boils down to “might makes right.”

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  • sari

    “That there is a higher thing than the law is apparent in people’s fight to change or to resist changing existing laws. And that is where the religion ghost haunts, in my view. ”

    I disagree. Many laws reflect people’s desire to have or do something–tax laws, for instance, which generate the income necessary to maintain a larger group or to serve as sops to a target constituency–iow, the higher thing is not a higher power but a group/tribe/nation. Morality can exist independent of religion or belief in a deity; that many atheists are extremely moral people attests to this fact.

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