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WASHINGTON — Congress really, really wants to make sure that sex with animals is still outlawed in the military.

Last week, conservative lobbyists and animal rights groups were up in arms over an obscure provision in the draft Defense Appropriations bill that would have eliminated a clause prohibiting sodomy and bestiality from the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

Pentagon officials described the changes as largely a legal housekeeping matter, because the sodomy prohibition had long ago been struck down by the Supreme Court and the bestiality prohibition was covered by other sections of the UCMJ.

But that reality didn’t stop panicked cries that the Pentagon was poised to legalize sex with animals, and congressional staffers said they worked in recent days to calm lawmakers worried that the technical clean-up could be misunderstood.

In the end, senators who pushed for the change on behalf of the Pentagon simply dropped the matter, and removed the issue from the annual defense authorization bill now headed for the President’s desk.

Defense officials said the decision will have no effect on the enforcement of military law. Sodomy is permitted; bestiality is not.

Gay rights groups said they were disappointed by the move, noting that it leaves the archaic sodomy language on the books. Conservative groups had been pushing for precisely that, linking the “don’t ask, don’t tell” repeal and interspecies sex acts in press releases, despite strong objections from Pentagon officials.

But the bestiality language may have been the only major victory for those conservative groups in the final bill.

Lawmakers dropped language from early drafts that would have prohibited same-sex marriages on military bases and strengthened restrictions on same-sex partner benefits. Instead, the final draft says that chaplains cannot be forced to conduct same-sex marriages if their religion prohibits it, and simply states that the Pentagon must follow the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

Those hoping to strike the sodomy language from the UCMJ said they’ll try again next year. Meanwhile, officials with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, who last week blasted the White House for not taking the bestiality issue seriously, said they were pleased with the outcome.

“Even if this part of the statute is for all intents and purposes dormant, the Department of Defense has given its assurance that anyone committing a sexually abusive act with a member of another species will be prosecuted,” PETA spokewoman Colleen O’Brien said.

Congress is expected to approve the authorization act later this week. Obama has threatened to veto the measure in recent months, but over the issue of new detention rules for terrorists, not bestiality concerns.

Twitter: @LeoShane


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