Why is it legal to kill an animal, but not to have sex with an animal?

It’s tempting to believe that all laws are noble and rational and based on logic. It’s also deceptive and delusional. Quite a few laws are just reflections of the collective prejudice of the majority (call it moral conviction if that goes down more easily). This prejudice can be against anything—blacks, women, homosexuals, scientists—whatever the majority takes a dislike to can often be codified into law. In that sense, laws are sometimes just legislated mob mentality. [1]

There doesn't seem to be any morally consistent and reasonable reason for forbidding sex with animals, when there is practically no restriction against killing them (let's ignore, for the moment, endangered animals and the like, and restrict our discussion to commonly eaten animals such as goats or cows or pigs). Also, murder receives greater punishment than rape (in case of human victims), so even that doesn't qualify as an argument.

As a few other answers have noted, there are a reasons for why there is a cultural bias against having sex with animals and a large cultural bias in favour of eating animals.

Why is sex with animals illegal?
Because the law was once made due to some cultural norm and now no one is lobbying for the issue. This is also true for other laws, such as those against homosexuality that are extant in many countries. It is still not a big enough issue for a candidate to take up, and taking it up is likely to call loss of votes rather than victory. The bestiality lobby isn't big enough or strong enough.

Note that the same applies to eating non-vegetarian food. It is legal because the vegetarian lobby isn't influential enough (yet) and no candidate is taking it up as an issue. In Madhya Pradesh (a state [province] in India), cow slaughter is now illegal (it is punishable with up to 7 years in prison), simply because they could get enough people to support this legislation. [2]


[1] Note that repealing such laws requires changing the mind of the majority, as was done in the case of racist legislation. It can't be done simply by appealing to logic or ethics.
[2] http://articles.timesofindia.ind…

4 Replies to “Why is it legal to kill an animal, but not to have sex with an animal?”

  1. Why? Well, it probably has a lot to do with the incentives, history, etc. That is, we're making laws based on what we want, not based on what animals would prefer.

    If we ban killing animals, then we're all vegetarians. And we don't want to do that. (I mean that literally — we don't *want* to do that, not that we shouldn't want that.)

    If we ban having sex with animals, then that affects a small number of people who we deem to be "perverts." Their desires are, therefore, irrelevant.

    People may also argue that it's an animal cruelty issue (or the consent issue) — but is it really? If the animal is on the giving end, it's unlikely that the animal is really being harmed.

    We also, by the way, are okay with killing animals but not with abuse. Yet most people would chose to be ("mildly") abused over killed. Did we get the law backwards then? Probably not. There is reason to allow killing animals. There is no reason to allow abuse.

    I guess it comes down to benefits vs. costs — and whose interest we're really trying to protect (our own).

    [Interestingly, sex with animals is not illegal everywhere. It was legal in Washington State until about 2007 (when a guy in Enumclaw was killed while having sex with a horse — he was the, um, receiving end). I assume it's still legal in some other states.]

  2. First, it's not always legal to kill an animal.  The manner in which you kill the animal, and the reason that you have for killing the animal are important in determining whether the action is legal or illegal.

    Second, where it is illegal to kill animals, generally it is so because the act is deemed to be cruelty – which is the same reason why it's illegal to have sex with animals.  They can't consent, and for most animals it's likely to injure them (or for some animals, they're likely to injure the human).

    Finally, the law does in fact reflect the moral judgments of the society that has created it.  And in our society, it is not acceptable for human beings to engage in sexual acts with non-human animals.  As such, it's illegal.

  3. Considering our laws are framed by us, our interests would assume supremacy over those of other creatures. Maybe there's some universal justice that decrees these acts of ours illegitimate, and there might be some cosmic retribution awaiting us.

    Indeed, we are witnessing global warming and ozone layer depletion – problems which may be partially attributed to our disregard for other organisms – which might eventually snowball into events leading to the extinction of humankind. However, from our perspective, we will do whatever makes us happier. I don't see why having sex with animals should make someone unhappy, as long as it's consensual. Then again, how do you figure out whether an act of bestiality (zoophilia, whatever floats your boat) is consensual or not? Since eating animals for food is natural and having sex with them is not, at least when you ignore individual tendencies, it's a lot more convenient to declare the latter illegal. If sex with other animals were a natural tendency, we would have seen cows and dogs having a go every now and then. There might be human beings who are sexually attracted towards animals, but they certainly comprise a very small minority. It wouldn't hurt anyone to legalize zoophilia (bestiality seems a strong word) but it might offend a lot of feelings. A lot of people are very averse to change, whether it affects them or not. Most religions denounce zoophilia as an act against nature, while killing animals finds no mention in that regard. It's rather convenient to continue with these traditional laws than to question and change them. It might lead to a lot of people losing faith in the judiciary, thinking it's comprised of nutcases, and rebelling against it. That wouldn't be cool now, would it?

    We're so used to killing animals that we don't really account for underlying motives. Having said that, we have realized our folly after witnessing the extinction of a few species and poaching is globally illegal. The animals we do kill for food and recreation are bred by us for those purposes, thereby maintaining the balance of nature as far as possible. It is a specious argument, agreed but that's the only explanation. There's no cogent logic behind these practices. 

    Personally, I think killing animals for purposes other than food and self defence should be made completely illegal. But it is  my opinion. Besides, framing such a law would be fraught with complications. Bull fighting, religious sacrifices, et al are traditional practices abolishing which is tantamount to playing God. If the number of people in support of these acts is greater than those opposed to it, why should the judiciary intervene? Again, it's a specious argument, and probably will be severely reprimanded in some higher court of law (figuratively speaking). Maybe it would be in the better interest of humanity to abolish animal killing altogether, but that's not for us to judge.

    We do value diamonds a lot, even though we are aware of the atrocities and bloodshed that goes into their procurement. Have diamonds been made illegal? This is somewhat similar. We are fine with getting that which makes us happy. Right or wrong is for nature to decide.

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