Michael Kiok knows that people despise him.
He has got into trouble at work over his sexual views and a legal change in his native Germany is about to make him a criminal. His long-term partner could be removed from their home. But he won't stop speaking up over what he sees as a civil-rights issue.
"The actions of society are nearly the same as they were against homosexuals 30 years ago," he said earlier this week in a phone interview from his home in western Germany, near the Ruhr valley. "We are doing the same things homosexuals did – we go out in public, we show our faces. You have more fear and hatred of things you do not know."
Mr. Kiok is a zoophile, the group's preferred term for those whose love for animals extends to sexual relations, and the voice of a lobby effort struggling against the tide of public opinion.
In Germany they are failing. Late Thursday the Bundestag passed a tough new law against bestiality, which includes fines of up to 25,000 euros. The law, which is expected to be confirmed in February, is part of a trend that moves beyond Biblically rooted strictures against the "abomination" of the act to focus instead on the perceived damage to the animal.
"Sexual interaction is problematic because it can lead to harm and emotional disorder of animals," Hans-Michael Goldmann, the head of the parliamentary committee pursuing the legal change, said in an email exchange before the vote. "It's not proven that animals would enjoy sexual interaction with humans."
Mr. Kiok said Friday he was "disappointed and sad" but that they would fight on in court.
The 52-year-old could be open about his activities until now because his country dropped its prohibition on bestiality in the late 1960s, part of a shift away from morality-based law. Since then, the act could be prosecuted only under cruelty laws and only if it caused "significant" physical harm to the animal.
That allowed Mr. Kiok to become the rare public face of a community that in many countries -- including Canada, which specifies a sentence of up to 10 years for bestiality -- tends to be seen only when they land in the criminal justice system.
He tells of how he underwent years of therapy to try to quell urges that date to childhood and engages in philosophical discussion about consent. He freely describes his 8 1/2 year relationship with an Alsatian named Cessie but says they don't have penetrative sex, because "she doesn't like it." He insists no harm is done by his actions and that laws shouldn't be based on people's squeamishness.
The number of people who have sexual relations with animals is difficult to quantify.
The famous Kinsey reports – whose methodology have been roundly criticized – found in the 1940s that 8 per cent of men and 5 per cent of women had some sort of sexual contact with animals, numbers which rose dramatically among rural residents. Research in the 1970s put the incidence at 5 per cent among men and 1.9 per cent among women, a drop the author ascribed to a reduction in the number of people living on farms. The numbers are generally thought to be artificially low because of society's prohibition on admitting such an act.
"The taboo on sex with animals may … have originated as part of a broader rejection of non-reproductive sex," wrote philosopher Peter Singer in a famous essay. "But the vehemence with which this prohibition continues to be held, its persistence while other non-reproductive sexual acts have become acceptable, suggests that there is another powerful force at work: our desire to differentiate ourselves, erotically and in every other way, from animals."
Mr. Kiok's group believes there are 100,000 people in the Germany community.
The anti-zoophile lobby in Germany agrees that bestiality is widespread and argues that the harm is vast. They insist that hundreds of thousands of animals are seriously injured every year through sex and that animals are pimped to paying customers.
These claims are scoffed at by Mr. Kiok. He says that consent is not legally relevant, because animals are deemed property, but that animals are quite capable of making clear if they are not interested . He stressed that coercion is at odds with zoophile principles and says he has seen no evidence of animal brothels.
Germany's legal change follows a sustained pressure campaign from animal rights activists who say the act is inherently abusive and that it needs to be banned in the dwindling handful of European countries in which it is allowed.
"Sexual abuse of animals is one of the most trivial and obscene expressions of human behaviour, one of the sickest practices that can be thought of and we believe it is truly deplorable that there are no EU-laws in place that prohibit and severely punish such sadistic behavior in order to protect defenseless animals," reads one petition.
This approach has been seen elsewhere. In a paper titled "The Unjustified Prohibition Against Bestiality," U.S. lawyer Michael Roberts noted that the act was effectively decriminalized in the United States after the Second World War. In 2001, though, two dozen states made the act a felony, a move he says was driven in part by "a rise in animal rights activism."
But critics of the new approach say that the act need not involve violence or injury.
"Non-zoophiles tend to regard zoophilia as a one-sided abusive activity engaged in by perverts strictly for their own benefit, which is to say, as a form of rape," Brian Cutteridge, a British Columbia resident who received a suspended sentence after pleading guilty this year to bestiality, acknowledged in a message to The Globe. He insists, though, that that he didn't hurt any animals and that his constitutional right to equality is being ignored.
"Laws prohibiting zoophilia are enforced even in the absence of any discernible harm to the animal," he argues. "Animal sexual autonomy is regularly violated for human financial gain through procedures such as [artificial insemination]. Such procedures are probably more disturbing physically and psychologically than an act of zoophilia would be, yet the issue of consent on the part of the animal is never raised."
Others make a blunter point.
"The accusation 'that a dog who licks peanut butter off your hand is getting a treat, while the same dog licking peanut butter off [your genitals] is being sexually abused' is absurd," C. Queen argues in Talking with Animals, according to sex therapist Hani Miletski, who cites her in the book "Understanding Bestiality and Zoophilia."
Mr. Kiok says they will take their fight to the European Court of Human Rights if they fail in the German courts. But he acknowledges that fundraising is an issue.
"It's not like we can stand in the street asking for donations," he said. "It's not easy to get money from people who hate you."