Between the Iowa debate and the wealth of memes that have grown in response to Rick Perry's crazytalk "Strong" ad spot, there's been plenty to talk about this week in the realm of politics. So much so that you may have completely missed that the Senate is trying to LEGALIZE BESTIALITY!!
Or at least that's what the Family Research Council and a handful of right-wing pundits would have you believe. Actually, what's happened is that the Senate has voted to repeal a legal ban on sodomy in the military, which makes a lot of sense, given that DADT has been repealed. The language of the original ban, however, which is now being removed from American law, is that a servicemember who "engages in unnatural carnal copulation with another person of the same sex or opposite sex or with an animal is guilty of sodomy.” Of course, this isn't legalizing anything so much as de-criminalizing one specific word; as Tracy Clark-Flory points out at Salon, plenty of states don't have explicit bans on bestiality, which is what this move amounts to, and conservatives don't seem to be particularly outraged about that. The connection between what's an obvious step in creating an inclusive military and promoting animal abuse is at best tenuous. So why are conservatives so committed to it? Well, Clark-Flory thinks that, like so much else in conservative rhetoric, it's about Scripture:
...this bizarre association can be traced all the way back to the side-by-side condemnation in Leviticus of sex both between two men and between a man and an animal. A key connection here is that both are forms of non-procreative sex. A concern over reproduction, the growth of a tribe, was much more understandable in biblical times, and yet modern-day wing-nuts still subscribe to the belief that heterosexual, conjugal and procreative sex is the only acceptable kind. Anything outside of that rigid category is considered deviant, which is why homosexuality is grouped together with everything from pedophilia to necrophilia. They are all part of what presidential candidate Michele Bachmann referred to as “sexual anarchy.” The “homo-bestiality” mentality fundamentally represents a fear of desire, indulgence and the irrepressible.
Which makes a lot of sense -- homosexuality is deviant and purely defined by sexual behavior, and therefore becomes about an inability to control oneself. And for a political party whose main goal seems to be keeping a vicelike grip on the sexual and moral expression of an entire nation, it's logical that unrestrained anything would be a threat.
But bestiality isn't the only thing that conservatives like throwing around when the subject of gays and gay sex comes up -- Rick Santorum himself said in 2003 that marriage is between a man and a woman and “not, you know, man on child, man on dog, or whatever the case may be.” It's not just about unrestrained desire; the two favorite slippery-slope arguments, Bestiality and Pedophilia, are both about nonconsensual acts of violence and abuse. That's why the slippery slope argument is such a hugely objectionable logical fallacy -- because there's no way that legalizing a consensual declaration of love between two adults should ever lead to state-sanctioned abuse. But that's how the conservative argument stands; they want you to believe that homosexuality should be criminalized because it's an inherently criminal act, like hurting a child or an animal. If you're trying to control and suppress a group of people in a country where the entire populace is supposed to champion freedom and individuality, isn't it a pretty smart plan to convince everyone that 1) they're not able to control themselves and 2) the thing they're not capable of holding themselves back from is violent and endangers the innocent? Regardless of how often or how conclusively science refutes the idea that gay people are pedophiles or have dangerous sexual compulsions, there's always a cultural majority that stands ready to conflate them.
It's no secret that the continued and pervasive presence of homophobia is due in large part to misinformation -- people who know an out gay person in any capacity are significantly less likely to hold to homophobic beliefs and attitudes. How much of the anti-gay sentiment that remains is a result of anti-gay conservatives mentioning bestiality and pedophilia in the same sentence as gay relationships every time they discuss our rights? And how bizarre is it that they're talking about the fake crime of homosexuality while categorically ignoring the real crimes of rich, overprivileged men in positions of power? It's not the first and it won't be the last time that a marginalized group is painted as not only different but dangerous, and made to bear blame for crimes they didn't commit. But it can at least be one time that they're called out on it; we can at least use this time to remind ourselves and others that we don't need to be controlled, and we're not here to hurt anyone; that instead, we are worthy and deserving of safety, of leading our lives in the dark, like humans and not predators.