Accidentally Decriminalized, Bestiality To Go Back On Books

Posted: June 04, 1999

Pennsylvania lawmakers never intended, not for a moment, to decriminalize bestiality.

Oops.

In 1995, while rewriting the state's criminal code, the legislature gave the heave-ho to many seemingly musty statutes - including one outlawing ``voluntary deviate sexual intercourse.''

For all those who did not know exactly what that entailed, an incident soon after proved instructive.

One morning at the New Holland Sales Stables in Lancaster County, police caught a man engaged in what they delicately referred to as ``intimate activity'' with a cow.

Even more stunning to prosecutors, however, was the discovery that the statute normally used to prosecute cases of ``zoo-philia'' had vanished from the books. They could charge the man with nothing more than trespass or cruelty to animals - acts that, in the crime code, are as consequential as jaywalking.

It has taken four years, but a bill that would make bestiality a crime once again in Pennsylvania is on the Senate's calendar this month.

In the interim, more offenders have slipped through the loophole, causing animal-rights advocates to badger embarrassed legislators to reverse themselves.

Lawmakers ``have talked about fixing this problem for a couple of years,'' said Gregg L. Warner, Senate Judiciary Committee counsel.

Why the delay?

``Obviously,'' he said, ``they weren't eager to introduce this legislation and have their name associated with this issue.''

The one who finally stepped forward was Sen. Stewart J. Greenleaf (R., Bucks-Montgomery). While conceding the matter is ``not fun,'' he said Harrisburg must not appear to ``condone this behavior.''

His legislation to recriminalize bestiality is actually an amendment tacked onto an unrelated bill. It likely will be voted on before summer recess, and almost assuredly will pass.

Under Greenleaf's amendment, sexual activity involving an animal would be a misdemeanor of the second degree - a crime that could incur jail time and a fine.

At least 22 states have laws prohibiting bestiality, according to the Humane Society of the United States, which began a campaign against animal sexual abuse earlier this year. New Jersey has no law specifically outlawing sex with animals, according to the state Department of Agriculture.

Pennsylvania legislators had their reasons for erasing the ``voluntary deviant sexual intercourse'' statute. In part, it had applied to consensual homosexual sex and was found by the courts to be discriminatory and unconstitutional. In the process of trashing it, no one noticed the bestiality application.

Johnna L. Seeton, chairman of the Pennsylvania Legislative Animal Network, had relentlessly lobbied lawmakers to fix what she called ``an honest mistake.''

The bill with Greenleaf's amendment already has passed through the Senate Judiciary Committee - without comment.

``The legislators feel the less said about this, the better,'' said a staffer, who asked not to be identified.

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