The Question of Consent
In last Thursday's edition of The Briefing, Al Mohler talked about a recent editorial from the UK's Guardian newspaper which praises Florida's new anti-bestiality law. I was struck by two things. First, bestiality is stomach-churning behavior to most Americans, but on what basis do we say it is wrong? Sure, the Bible forbids sex with animals, but the Bible also forbids sex between men. If you're going to say Scripture is bigoted for its condemnation of homosexuality, do you also say it is bigoted for its condemnation of bestiality? To be ideologically consistent, you probably have to. This is the fundamental flaw in the cultural push to expand the definition of marriage. Marriage is an intrinsically narrow institution. Sure, it sounds noble to demand the freedom to marry whoever you want–until you think about what that would actually mean. Should fathers be free to marry their adult daughters? Should brothers be free to marry their grown sisters? Should husbands be free to have as many wives as they want? And what if a man wants to marry his goat? Those who want to make marriage more inclusive criticize "traditionalists" for defining marriage in such narrow terms–all the while demonstrating their own brand of narrowness. The only way to truly free marriage from its constraints is to eliminate it altogether.
The most interesting thing about The Guardian article is that Victoria Bekiempis, the Florida author who wrote it, bills herself a champion of sexual freedom. She notes that many of her ideological allies (like Peter Singer) are framing bestiality as the new homosexuality and believe it can follow the same path to mainstream acceptance. In her words, "they think that human-animal eroticism is misunderstood, and decry both social and legal opposition to bestiality as a limitation of sexual freedom." Just as Peter Singer argues that infanticide is no worse than abortion, so he argues that bestiality is no worse than homosexuality. In each case, it's just the natural next step. And Singer's point isn't that there is anything wrong with abortion or homosexuality. His point is that since nothing is wrong with abortion or homosexuality, there can be nothing wrong with infanticide or bestiality. As secular atheists go, he's as intellectually-consistent as they come. But here is where Bekiempis draws a line of distinction. She draws it at consent, arguing that "the most basic tenets of sexual rights is that people should be allowed to indulge their weirdest and wildest curiosities and kinks without fear of reprisal – so as long [as those involved are] consenting adults in a private setting." She summarizes her piece with the following conclusion:
A healthy, sex-positive society cannot allow sexual activity to occur in which clear consent is not present, even if the non-consenting party is not human. To do so would undermine the objective importance of consent. Laws barring bestiality, such as the one recently enacted in Florida, are not wrongful limitations of sexual freedom. They rightfully protect the sexual liberties of all.
Bekiempis is adamant that despite all claims to the contrary, animals do not have the capacity to give consent. "Therefore, bestiality must be banned because it is a sexual act in which consent is impossible." While this argument does provide a secular, intellectual framework for criminalizing bestiality, it does nothing to condemn other high-profile, sexual taboos like incest and polygamy. More to the immediate context of Abort73, I couldn't help but notice the clear parallels this question of consent has to the abortion debate. Not surprisingly, Victoria Bekiempis publicly supports abortion. A quick search turned up an article she wrote in August lampooning Florida's new abortion restrictions. This is a tragic departure from the principles she lays out in her Guardian piece. Do unborn humans consent to being violently aborted? Absolutely not. In the past, I've heard abortion advocates place the burden of demonstrating consent upon the child, essentially arguing that since they lack the capacity to give consent, their consent isn't needed. But this is exactly opposite to what Bekiempis is arguing. She is saying that the burden lies with the other party. Since animals do not have the capacity to demonstrate consent, it is morally impossible to justify bestiality. Why should it be any different for abortion? Bekiempis further argues that for sexual freedom to survive, the law must establish "criminal and civil protections from people who don't play by the rules: that is, people who violate consent by forcing themselves on others." In other words, the law must legislate against choices that threaten other people without their consent.
Last night, a tragic and gruesome story emerged from Milwaukee. I can hardly get my head around it. Annette Morales-Rodriguez is a 33-year-old woman who faked a nine-month pregnancy because she couldn't conceive and has a boyfriend desperate for a son. As her supposed delivery date drew near, she became increasingly desperate. After two days of scouring Milwaukee for a pregnant woman, she is accused of beating a 23-year-old Puerto Rican immigrant to death with a baseball bat and then cutting her full-term baby out with an X-Acto knife. The child died in the process. Contrast that story with the one about Lindsey Lowe, the Tennessee woman who suffocated her newborn twins just after they were born. Despite what she did to her children, plenty of people have rushed to her side and argued that she is a wonderful person. I don't anticipate anyone rushing to Morales-Rodriguez' side. Why? Because it is more culturally outrageous to kill another woman's baby than it is to kill your own–something I speculated on in my remarks from a couple weeks ago. Here again, it comes down to this issue of consent. The 23-year-old woman who was bludgeoned to death in Milwaukee did not consent to the violence that befell her, which makes Morales-Rodriguez a far less-sympathetic assailant than Lowe. But do not miss the fact that in both cases, the children who were murdered did not give their consent. If it is an atrocity to kill another woman's baby without consent, can it be any more justified to kill your own children–without their consent?!
Michael Spielman is the founder and director of Abort73.com. His book, Love the Least (A Lot), is available as a free download. You can also find him on Facebook and Google+. Abort73 is part of Loxafamosity Ministries, a 501c3, Christian education corporation. If you have been helped by the information available at Abort73.com, please consider making a donation.