JEFFERSON CITY - While lawmakers have kept gay sexual acts illegal in Missouri, it is legal to have sex with an animal.
The absence of a law that bans sexual contact with family pets and farm animals has gotten the attention of one state lawmaker.
"This makes us look like a backward state," said Rep. Catherine Hanaway, R-Des Peres, who wants to ban the practice, known as bestiality or zoophilia.
Her bill, which is attracting bi-partisan support, would make it a felony to have or cause contact with an animal for sexual gratification.
Hanaway said she acted on behalf of constituents outraged by the actions of a local man, George Willard of southwestern Missouri.
Several years ago Willard published a book about the joy of sex with animals. He even appeared on British television with his companion, Pixel -- a pony. The two shared a trailer before Willard's death last August.
About 20 of Hanaway's colleagues have signed on as co-sponsors, but not without a few chuckles.
"I have heard every lewd and lascivious joke possible," Hanaway said.
The issue has a serious element, however. The Show-Me State is one of 26 states without a ban.
"Bestiality is a predictor and indicator of other criminal activity," said Claire Ponder, a spokesman for the Humane Society of the United States, who said a history of bestiality is found in about 40 percent of domestic violence cases.
Rapists and serial killers often report having received sexual gratification by abusing animals, activists say.
For example, a San Francisco man was charged in 1998 with operating a "whips-and-chains sex dungeon" where eels, anteaters and water buffalo were also abused.
Missouri did not allow the practice until 23 years ago, when a state law encompassing sex with an animal or someone of the same gender was invalidated by the courts.
Lawmakers re-banned gay sex but never addressed the animal issue.
How common is this predilection and who partakes? Data is hard to come by, but, if the Internet is any indicator, bestiality is not all that uncommon.
The word bestiality appeared in at least 135,885 webpages, according to a recent query on one of the more popular Internet search engines. In addition, a recent study by the Humane Society found more than 8,000 relevant Internet sites -- one claiming more than 46,000 visits per day.
The easy availability of this type of pornography doesn't mean practitioners are willing to go on the record.
One opponent of the ban, who identified himself or herself only as "Great Dane," expressed an opposing view through an Internet bulletin board.
"Zoophiles love their animals more than any other human could," according the posting. "They treat their animals better than most men treat their wives."