“Sex, Gender and Species” Conference at Wesleyan University

David Cassuto

This interdisciplinary conference looks like it will be mighty good.

  • Wesleyan University will be hosting a conference called “Sex, Gender and Species” on February 25 and 26, 2011. The purpose of this conference is to foreground the relations between feminist and animal studies and to examine the real and theoretical problems that are central to both fields of inquiry. Conference organizers Lori Gruen and Kari Weil are seeking 1-2 page abstracts by October 1, 2010. Abstracts can be sent to lgruen@wesleyan.edu or kweil@wesleyan.edu.

Buggery and Factory Farming

Rodell Green was just sentenced to three years imprisonment for having sex with a horse. Over at the Atlantic Blog, correspondent Wendy Kaminer asks the following “quick question“:

Can someone explain to me why it is a criminal offense to have sex with animals but entirely legal to kill and eat them?  Surely laws against bestiality don’t reflect concern about the rights of animals, (who would probably opt for sex over death.) I don’t mean to denigrate meat eating (I’m a carnivore;) I do mean to point out the absurdities of imprisoning people for “buggery.”

In a sense, Ms. Kaminer is right. It is simply inconsistent for the law to send someone to jail for three years for having sex with a horse while simultaneously allowing billions of animals to unnecessarily suffer as a result of factory farming.

Nevertheless, I believe that there is a way to explain this inconsistency. As I pointed out in a previous post, it’s unclear whether the purpose of bestiality statutes is to protect animals from cruelty. As a matter of fact, I think that bestiality statutes have little to do with preventing animal suffering. Instead, it’s more likely that the purpose of bestiality statutes is to enforce a moral principle, namely: that it’s against natural law and morality for human beings to have sex with an animal.  This reading of bestiality statutes is supported by the history of laws criminalizing such conduct.

The first statute criminalizing bestiality in common law jurisdictions was England’s Buggery Act of 1533. The statute made engaging in anal sexual intercourse or having sex with an animal a crime punishable by hanging. These acts were criminalized because they were unnatural and against God’s will. After all, as Blackstone (in)famously asserted in his famous Commentaries, someone who engaged in these acts committed the “abominable and detestable crime against nature”. As a result, it seems fairly obvious that what inspired bestiality laws was the state’s desire to enforce a particular moral view.

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