Often in gay marriage debates, the question arises: If we allow gay marriage, what next? Bestiality? Conor Friersdorf—who supports gay marriage—thinks this is silly, and claims that because an animal cannot consent to sex with a human, then libertarians should not worry about the ethics of criminalizing bestiality.
Here is a good reply by Samuel Goldman at The American Conservative, which very effectively refutes Friersdorf’s point. Sure, animals don’t consent to sex—but nor do they consent to being killed and eaten, or being trapped in a house as pets, and most people don’t worry about that.
But what does this mean for libertarianism? Goldman believes that “libertarians can offer no principled defense of laws prohibiting bestiality” and that, therefore, the continued existence of bestiality laws “will be because human nature revolts against the implications of libertarianism.”
It seems correct to say that libertarians certainly cannot come up with a principled defense of anti-bestiality laws. At least, I haven’t heard one or thought of one. But I do not take that to be at all opposed to human nature.
There are two issues that Goldman’s argument mixes together.
First is the question of whether “human nature revolts” at the thought of bestiality. I think most people would say yes.
But the more important question is whether bestiality should be something that the government punishes through the criminal law. Libertarians would say no, even if they answered yes to the first question.
And how does human nature revolt against non-punishment? I don’t see lots of people clamoring to throw “zoosexuals” in prison. I don’t even see them believing that the only just response to man-on-donkey sex is that the man suffer punishment. It’s not as though people have a “don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time” response to bestiality, as they would for, say, theft or murder. More likely, normal people just don’t want to deal with others who have sex with animals—which, of course, they would be able to do in a libertarian society.
I’m sure Conor Friersdorf’s heart is in the right place. But I don’t think he does his cause any good when he tries to argue that, really, liberals and libertarians can find a way to criminalize bestiality. To do so blurs the line between social mores and government action, so that they are treated as essentially the same thing, and then allows the opposition to say that your position somehow “shocks the conscience” if it doesn’t allow government action to preserve social mores, as though a failure to punish bestiality amounts to support for bestiality itself.
This is important because statists use this same argument against libertarians not only for bestiality, but also when discussing things like drug use, discrimination, child labor, or prostitution—all of which libertarians want to legalize but do not necessarily condone.
Just because someone believes that something should be legal does not mean that person likes it. What really shocks my conscience is that some people would add to an already over-crowded prison system for something as frivolous as bestiality.