Minnesota “Family” Group Started to Throw Gays in Jail

My colleague Andy Birkey, a brilliant reporter, documents how the Minnesota Family Council, which now spends its time fighting marriage equality, was formed to make sure the police could still throw people in jail for being gay.

The Minnesota Family Council got its start in 1982 as a group of conservative Christians concerned that laws criminalizing gays and lesbians would be overturned.

“I believe we need to be true to our roots and let who we are grow out of that. The Berean League, as we were known, was founded locally by four people in 1982 as a ‘Coalition of Concerned Christians,’ former Chief Operating Officer of the Minnesota Family Council, Mike Christenson, told that organization’s newspaper, the Pro-Family News in 2001. ”This was in response to the very narrow defeat at the legislature of an attempt to repeal the Minnesota sodomy law.”

This is hardly surprising. The religious right would like us to forget this, but between 1986, when the Supreme Court upheld state sodomy laws in Bowers v Hardwick, and 2003, when that same court overturned sodomy laws in Lawrence v Texas, every mainstream religious right group fought to keep laws on the books to put gay people in prison. In fact, it didn’t stop there. After the 2003 ruling, they all railed against the evil, tyrannical Supreme Court that would no longer allow them to imprison those were viewed unfavorably by the bronze age nomads who wrote the Bible. And to this day, many groups still openly call for the return of those laws.

A former legislator, Wayne Oloft was the founder and executive director of the Berean League. Following on the organization’s 1983 success in maintaining criminalization laws, the group continued to push for the laws’ enforcement.

He told the Minnesota Daily in 1985 that “unnatural sex is a prolific disease spreader,” and added criminalization laws should be looked at and perhaps sex within heterosexual marriage should be exempted.

Oloft told the Washington Post in 1987 that sodomy “often involves promiscuity and that means increasing the risk of venereal disease or AIDS.”

“Repealing the law would subtly validate homosexual behavior, and deal a strike against the heterosexual family which is the prime vehicle for passing on moral values in our society,” Oloft said.

Minnesota at the time carried a 1-year maximum sentence on conviction on a sodomy charge and a $3,000 fine. The law technically applied to anyone not engaged in any penis-vagina sex, but was used selectively against gay men and lesbians.

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, the law was used to raid gays bars, deny child custody to gays and lesbians, terminate the employment of gays and lesbians and justify legal discrimination against gay people.

I’m glad Andy documented this. We shouldn’t let the religious right disappear their history down the memory hole.

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  • dingojack

    Uh Ed, “… by the bronze age nomads who wrote the Bible”, that would the book written by ‘iron age farmers and herders’. Just a pet peeve of mine.


  • We shouldn’t let the religious right disappear their history down the memory hole.

    Yeah. In ten years, they’ll be bragging about the way Christians brought about marriage equality for gays and lesbians.

  • “unnatural sex is a terrific disease-spreader”

    If the concern was disease, we should all be lesbians. They have the lowest STD rates of all!

  • David Ratnasabapathy

    Aren’t those gays and lesbians who were fined/jailed entitled to their money back (with interest) or compensation?

  • dingojack

    Who knew that ‘pro-family’ groups were all for living naked, solitary and way, way in the country (but far from animals).

    Wearing clothing encouraged all sorts of parasites, including body lice and fleas which had a negative effect of human health (Yersina pestis, anyone?). Living in urban areas also negatively effected human health (think of Cholrea, Influenza and the like) mostly due to the close proximity of hosts for the disease and the problems of sanitation. Plenty of diseases spread from animals to humans due to eating or living near animals (Swine Fever, Bird Flu, Chicken Pox, BSE and Hunta virus to name just a few).

    Clearly if human heath were their concern they would also want to ban motor vehicles, handguns, cigarettes and junk-food.

    Hmmm,,, I’m beginning to suspect they might have another agenda in mind – I wonder what that might be…?


  • Pierce R. Butler

    dingojack @ # 1: “… by the bronze age nomads who wrote the Bible”, that would the book written by ‘iron age farmers and herders’.

    Even if their more advanced neighbors had shown them the rudiments of blacksmithing by the time they finally learned to write, those ever-backwards Ibaru tribal priests were nonetheless transcribing the (largely borrowed) mythology of their bronze-age period, no?

  • somerville

    I agree with Dingo: those who wrote the bits and pieces that became the Bible were ‘iron age farmers and herders’, by and large, nomads weren’t literate folks – not that many of those who became the Israelites were either.

    also another point of agreement with Dingo – that other agenda they have in mind.

  • slc1

    Re Marcus Ranum @ #3

    It is fascinating that the born again bigots don’t seem to get all bent out of shape over lesbians.

  • raven

    Some fundie xian groups are already on hate group and terrorist group lists.

    Seems like a lot more should be.

  • ManOutOfTime

    Because everybody knows the way to end homosexual conduct is to confine men for long periods of time in humiliating, uncivilized conditions without access to females.

  • dingojack

    Pierce R. Butler – If that is true then they would be ‘bronze age’ or ‘nomads’, but not both. 🙂

    [If copied from Mesopotamia then possibly bronze-age urban dwellers, if not iron-age nomads].

    In fact, I believe the consensus is that the earliest parts of the bible (as it would later become) were written around the 6th century bce, well into the literate iron-age farmer/herder phase of Judean culture. If it were carried around as an oral tradition it could be earlier (‘bronze age’ would make it stretch back more than 500 years, certainly plausible*)

    [The latter parts of the work were possibility as late as the 3rd century ce (definitely not bronze age)].



    * The Illiad was probably written in the 7th century bce about events that occurred around 1200 bce, for comparison.

  • Captain Mike

    “Repealing the law would subtly validate homosexual behavior, and deal a strike against the heterosexual family which is the prime vehicle for passing on moral values in our society,” Oloft said.

    I think he may be confusing “heterosexual family” with “television.”

  • regexp

    I stopped reading at ‘brilliant reporter’. Can you point me to his ‘brilliant’ writing? Because I haven’t seen any. The guy is a hack and one trick pony. Kind of an ass in person as well.

  • raven

    dumb troll:

    The guy is a hack and one trick pony.

    I stopped paying attention after troll, hack, and one trick pony. Because trolls are dime a hundred and we see them every day.

    Can you point us to any proof that he is a “hack”, “one trick pony”, or “ass”.

    Don’t worry about proving that you are a troll. It’s right there in front of us.

  • MikeMa


    Regardless of your opinion of the reporter, what of the report? You support Berean League goals and ideals? You believe alternate (to you) sexual identity requires jail time?

  • Pierce R. Butler

    dingojack @ # 11: … they would be ‘bronze age’ or ‘nomads’, but not both.

    I don’t have the time to dig for references, but I gather that the archeological/climatological evidence has it that the proto-Hebrews lived in villages and towns when rainfall was adequate for agriculture, and hit the road with their herds during dry spells, in repeating cycles where each phase might last for generations. This makes labeling about their technology and lifestyle particularly problematic, especially if some (e.g., metalworkers) stayed put while the sheep guys went off to do their sheep thing.

    As for the age of the earlier biblical texts, it seems to me that you refer to the time when someone (Ezra?) compiled the divergent mythologies of Judah and Israel when it became convenient/necessary to unify those kingdoms. Or perhaps the peculiar incident from Josiah’s time in which “original” documents were miraculously discovered in the Temple basement and the previously-used “corrupt” versions got the Fahrenheit 451 treatment.

    Of course, much of the Hebrew mythology, having been picked up from coastal Ugaritic city-states while the Chosen People were little more than outlaws taking refuge in near-barren hill country, is “nomadic” only by adoption (though I’d bet most of it dates back to when iron ore was just useless too-hard rock).

  • jnorris

    It didn’t take long for the ultra-conservatives to discover that defending America from Teh Gay is a money machine that won’t stop as long as you keep the suckers scared, very scared.

  • dingojack

    Pierce R. Butler – I’m pretty sure iron ore wasn’t a ‘too hard rock’ see: Genesis 4:22; Leviticus 26:19; Numbers 31:22 and 35:16; Deuteronomy 3:11, 4:20, 8:9, 19:5, 27:5 and 28:23 for mentions of iron (note that these are only the early books).

    They see to be familiar with iron mining*, smelting, working and fashioning into objects (although this does not mean they knew how nor that they did it themselves).



    * Brass on the other hand… :0