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.