Friday, March 20, 2009

Bestiality Then And Now

The Florida legislature has just offered a convincing demonstration that the South is no longer the “agrarian South.” After five decades of writing, and now raising a 12 year old son, I have become painfully aware that much of the vocabulary meaningful to one generation is lost to another. (Should I thus explain that agrarian refers to agriculture?)

The Florida event I’m referring to quickly made national news, but for the wrong reason. Florida Democrat state senator Larcenia Bullard had questions about a bill that would once more outlaw bestiality in Florida whose previous law had been declared unconstitutionally vague. (For the younger readers who might not know the word bestiality, suffice to say it has nothing to do with Beasty Boys.)

The new law clarifies the act and exempts dog shows and “animal husbandry”. Senator Bullard was horrified and asked, ''People are taking these animals as their husbands? What's husbandry?'' After hearing that it was raising and caring for animals, she asked about the Connecticut incident where a chimpanzee attacked a woman, ''So that maybe was the reason the lady was so upset about that monkey?''

Bullard’s unfortunate vocabulary gap inspired a viscious attack from television monkey Keith Olbermann who nominated her for his “Worst Person In The World” award. While Bullard’s gaffe was funny, it hardly merits Olbermann’s attack on a minority politician (or any person).

We could write off the gaffe as a generational thing, the South and especially Florida no longer being agrarian, except for Senator Bullard’s qualifications. She was born in the decidedly agrarian South Carolina in 1947. She has a bachelor’s degree from Antioch University, an AA from Temple University, and a Masters of Social Work from Nova University. She began her professional life as a teacher and became an educational consultant. She sits on the Pre-K to 12 Education Committee, the Higher Education Committee and the Senate Agricultural Committee.

Mocking poor Sen. Bullard misses the real issue. Her gaffe should make one wonder how any native born citizen can graduate high school, earn three degrees in higher education, become a teacher, become a government official shaping public education, and sit on a committee that oversees agricultural law and not know the meaning of the 600 year old English word still in good standing.

Footnote: Sixteen states permit bestiality. In a time when strong currents in our culture have created the ‘sexual revolution’ and have spread increasing acceptance of once banned sexual practices and pairing, it’s worth noting that the Florida bill was inspired when a Senator promoting animal rights heard that a man making love to a goat had accidentally strangled the animal by grabbing its collar too tightly.

The sponsor is trying to balance human rights against animal rights, although the language does have a Puritan flavor to it. It bans acts in which the human obtains “sexual gratification,” or pleasure. It is an advance, nevertheless, from September 1642 when a jury in the Plymouth Colony found a teenager guilty of bestiality, and before the boy was executed, “first the mare and then the cow and the rest of the lesser cattle were killed before his face, according to the law.”

The Puritans, of course, knew the word husbandry well. We have expanded our tolerance but only changed our vocabulary.

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