On Feb. 9 2023, the lower house of the Spanish Congress passed a bill amending a portion of that nation's criminal code regarding animal abuse. By Feb. 19, several dominantly right-wing news outlets and politicians were pushing a claim that this change in code decriminalized bestiality.
Proponents of the legislation say this is an absurd mischaracterization of a law that, in reality, extends protections to more animals, more aggressively. Opponents argue that the new language of the law potentially downgrades the severity of crimes that could theoretically include bestiality. Here, Snopes examines the controversy.
While the bill must pass through the Senate before it becomes law, if enacted it changes a portion of the Spanish criminal code dealing with animal abuse that was last updated in 2015. The relevant section mandated a prison sentence for individuals who submit domestic animals to sexual exploitation:
A prison sentence of three months and one day to one year and special barring from carrying out a profession, trade or commerce related to animals and for the keeping of animals for the term of one year and one day to three years shall be imposed on those who, by any means or procedure, unfairly mistreat, causing injuries that seriously damages its health or by submitting it to sexual exploitation:
a) A pet or tame animal;
b) An animal that is usually domesticated;
c) An animal that temporarily or permanently lives under human control, or;
d) Any animal that does not live in the wild.
The rewritten portion of the code expanded the scope of animals protected by removing the requirement that the law pertains only to domestic or economically exploited animals. It also, however, introduced a requirement that the abuse has to cause "an injury that requires veterinary treatment" for it to be considered a crime punishable by anything more than a fine.
As English-language, Spanish news outlet The Local reported, the imposition of this requirement is the source of the claim that bestiality has been decriminalized in Spain:
The contentious point in question relates to a modification of Spain's Criminal Code (Art. 337) and the sentences for mistreatment and abuse of animals. It currently punishes "sexual exploitation" of animals and the wording has been changed to penalizing "acts of a sexual nature…that cause an animal injury which requires treatment".
So the fact that the proposed new text doesn't appear to specifically state that all sexual acts on animals should be considered a crime but rather only the ones that cause physical harm to the animals has been picked apart as apparent proof that bestiality will become legal in Spain.
This view was articulated in a blog post by Francisca Gutiérrez Jáimez, a lawyer and president of the Canarian Network of Lawyers for Animal Welfare and the Environment:
The need for veterinary treatment to cure injuries is introduced for the "criminal type" of abuse, relegating injuries that heal by themselves to a minor offense with a fine. This is a step backwards with respect to the current Penal Code that punishes the injury that occurs and also does not exclude psychological injuries that could be caused to the animal as a result of mistreatment.
We might even have cases of zoofilia where no injury is caused to the animal that does not require veterinary attention, such as inflammation or minor injuries, which would be punished with a mere fine of one to three months, and even worse if you have sexual relations with an animal and are not caus[ing] injury would be decriminalized and without conviction.
In response to claims that the changed law allows for bestiality, representatives of the Social Rights Ministry, which was a driving force behind the amendment, told media outlet El Diario that:
All sexual acts with animals will be punishable. In the event that they produce injuries, they will be considered crimes; in the rest – less serious offenses – they will be classified as abuse without visible signs of injury (maltrato de obra).
In large part, this controversy is caused by imprecise language. While many Spanish legal experts disagree that the law legalizes or decriminalizes bestiality, some have concerns that the new wording could, at least theoretically, make it harder to convict some individuals for sexual acts with animals.
"Perhaps," wrote The Local, "the focus should … be on whether the Spanish government is about to pass another ill-thought-out, ambiguous law which will, to some extent, have the direct opposite effect of what it was intended to do." As the change still needs approval from the Senate and remains subject to modification, only time will tell if that will be the case.