Florida Did Not Accidentally Outlaw Sex; or, How Slow Weekend News Cycles Work

Josh Clark

[Author's note: Please excuse the subject matter; this post is on media criticism, not really on illegal and corrupt sex acts.]

Infrequent, it is when the topic of zoophilia makes the news cycle. Which is what makes the news cycle during the second weekend in May 2011 remarkable. Zoophilia, the clinical term for the more vulgar term bestiality (vulgar being a less common term for common), was all over the place in the last news cycle.

This was owing largely to the passage of a bill in Florida that makes bestiality illegal. The bill passed after lengthy lobbying by a state senator from the town of Sunrise after she learned in 2009 that 1) Florida has a pretty large population of zoophiliacs and, 2) the state had no law banning sex with animals.

What is surprising isn't numbers 1 or 2 so much as: 3) Until it passed its law this month, Florida was one of 16 states with no law explicitly banning bestiality.

It would be pretty much impossible in the Age of the Internets to pass a bill outlawing sex with animals and not invite scorn and ridicule and Florida is no exception. While the passage of the bill attracted some media attention, what launched it into temporary meme status was an interpretation of the law by Southern Fried Science. An author on the blog points out that the bill prohibits sex with animals, which, in a phylogical sense can be interpreted to mean that Florida inadvertently outlawed sex between humans, humans belonging to the kingdom Animalia and all. So, taken strictly, when the law kicks in this October, humans could conceivably be charged with a first degree misdemeanor for consensual sex with other humans. This, unsurprisingly these days, was enough for media outlets, which littered search returns with disposable headlines like, "Florida Accidentally Outlaws Sex," and the like.

Not so, said Rick Hansen, a fellow blogger who covers law and politics at Election Law Blog. While, yes, Florida's law bans sex with animals and, biologically speaking, humans are animals, SFS and others who interpret the law similarly are missing a major point -- chiefly, common sense. The court would have to be both stupid and pretty much corrupt to misconstrue the intent of the writers of the statute so grossly. Writes Hansen:

"A court facing a question of interpreting the statute would almost certainly read the statute's use of the term 'animals' as 'non-human animals,' both to avoid absurdity and to conform with (1) the intent of the drafters; (2) the purpose of the statute; and (3) a commonly used (if scientifically inaccurate) understanding of the term 'animal' to exclude humans."

So the blogosphere and twitterverse were all aflutter about nothing at all, but they cannot be held accountable as it was a weekend. And since there's really no interesting way I can find to end this post, I will leave you with this fact for your back pocket: Abraham Lincoln used his presidential prerogative to pardon one Arthur O'Bryan, who was charged with attempted bestiality while intoxicated. Lincoln found the man "otherwise reputable" and excused his crime.