It is not my custom to judge others' sexual orientations and practices, and I've never been accused of being a prude. But I think I've found a place to draw a line in the sand, an issue on which to sign up for a Religious Right-style crusade against indecency:

That would be sex with animals.

Now, I suspect this one isn't atop your list of burning issues for the next millennium, but did you know that in our own state of Missouri, it is perfectly legal to carry on in an intimate way with your favorite family pet or barnyard friend?

Yes, friends, in a state that outlaws as sodomy any consenting sexual activity between people of the same sex -- or, for that matter, oral sex for anyone -- there is no legal prohibition as to what ought to be the crime of bestiality.

Naturally, one would assume this is nothing more than a point of legislative trivia, an oversight with no practical consequence in the real world. Why even raise such a disgusting subject?

Here's why: Missouri has received international publicity, as recently as September and in no less than the Times of London, as a place where "sex with animals is not illegal." The state has gotten similar mentions this fall on British television and in the Daily Telegraph, the Evening Standard and the Independent.

I'm not making this up.

It seems that there's quite a row in the United Kingdom over a television documentary on something called zoophilia, the sick-and-wrong practice of loving animals in a sexual sense. And in this lovely context, guess who turns out to be the Show-Them State?

It's us.

As the RFT reports this week (see page 10), the star of the documentary is a 47-year-old fellow from southwest Missouri who has caught the attention of the Brits for his passionate love for his 22-year-old wife. The age difference isn't so scandalous, but the fact that his wife is a horse has raised a few eyebrows.

So has the fact that Missouri -- like 25 other states -- has no specific ban on humans' having sex with animals. Call it our unlikely number coming up, but it's Missouri that is getting the credit as a mecca for the worst sort of animal friends.

Obviously we know this is a grotesque distortion of reality, but here's something that isn't: The Internet is exploding with perverted images of sex with animals (we found that typing "bestiality" into a search engine produced 450,000 hits, most of them not terribly intellectual). This isn't quite the nonissue it ought to be.

Perhaps even more disgusting, it turns out that half of a surveyed group of 116 sex offenders in northwest Missouri admitted to animal intercourse during their lives. It's a real-enough problem (and not only outstate) that the Missouri Alliance for Animal Legislation tells us "there's a very big underground community here" in the world of zoophilia.

I still didn't believe it wasn't against the law, so I went to the Missouri secretary of state's Web site (www.moga.state.mo.us) to see for myself. The news is not good.

Type in "bestiality" and all you get are two references, both part of the statutes involving sex with children. The animal-cruelty statutes make no reference to sexual activity, with the closest reference being that one cannot cause "suffering" to an animal.

Technically, state officials could respond to the British press: "No, you're wrong to say there are no laws prohibiting sex with animals in Missouri. Why, it's a felony for an adult to have sex with an animal if the conduct also involves a child of 17 or under."

I don't know if that's such great spin. Nor would it be such a good idea for a prosecutor to try bringing animal-cruelty charges against some pervert on the basis of the notion that the animal was suffering: The zoophile weirdos would probably love to advance their "belief" that this is just good clean fun for all parties involved.

Missouri would probably end up on Court TV -- not to mention back in the news again in the UK -- as a state wrestling with the wrenching issue of where to draw the line in our love for animals. We'd end up getting grilled internationally about how it happens that our official state animal is the Missouri mule.

Almost as incredible as this entire topic is the fact that the humane organizations are having difficulty finding a legislator to correct this absurdity. Maybe it's understandable that no one wants to raise this topic as a matter of taste -- or maybe they're afraid it would provoke a really humiliating debate -- but don't you think someone ought be take a stand in the name of tourism, if not decency?

Admittedly, this subject isn't top-of-mind all over Great Britain (and Lord knows where else it has been picked up), but it isn't as if Missouri gets frequent mentions in these faraway places. If it's the only thing they've heard about us lately, it's scary to imagine what they'll think in January when the NFL playoffs are beamed around the globe with images from St. Louis about how "we love our Rams."

They'll probably think "Goat Boy" is the team mascot.

My fellow Missourians, we have an image problem here. If you happen to be visiting folks in the U.K. soon, don't be surprised if they hustle Sparky out of sight as soon as you enter the door. And don't bother mentioning that one of our proudest civic attractions is our world-famous St. Louis Zoo.

We need an animal-decency crusade, and we need it now.

Maybe this is a job for the Post-Dispatch. After all, the paper sank to a new low in the history of metropolitan American journalism when it devoted the entire front page of Saturday's tabloid edition to the breaking story "Raja Breaks in New Digs at Zoo." All that was missing was the sign "Welcome to St. Louis: Population 237."

But at least no one can deny the zoo-friendliness of our hometown paper. Now all we need to do is to frame the need for bestiality legislation in terms of a fight to protect the honor of Raja (an excellent elephant) and other sexually unprotected animals like him, and we'll have a series of "Imagine St. Louis" sections beating the drums for reform.

And I'll be right there with the Post for this campaign.

This is one time I'm for old-fashioned, decent American family values.

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