OPINION | During Minnesota legislature’s upcoming “unsession,” repeal laws used to jail and harass gays and lesbians


Gov. Mark Dayton has called a special session to start on Sept. 9, and as part of what he has dubbed the “unsession,” Dayton is asking Minnesotans to submit ideas to “eliminate old and outdated rules.”

Minnesota has an outdated law that was once used to imprison gays and lesbians. State statute 609.293 is called the sodomy law and while it pertained to both heterosexual and homosexual sexual acts, the law was used to discriminate against gays and lesbians.

In 1973, an attempt was made to repeal the sodomy law but it was defeated by the House by a vote of 69 to 46.

Another attempt was made in 1981. the Minnesota Legislature had attempted to repeal the sodomy law, but conservative Christians at the Legislature blocked the repeal. In fact, the Minnesota Family Council started in 1981 because of that attempt to repeal the sodomy laws. At the time it was called the Berean League.

Wayne Oloft was the first leader of the group. Here’s what he told Minnesota Public Radio in 1985: “There are some that do have families and lesbians can bear children. I think it is it is not part beneficial to raise children in an environment where they are seeing sodomy occurring on a regular occasion.”

In an interview in 1986, Oloft told the Star Tribune that the law should be changed only to apply to “homosexuals. In other words, sodomy would be “protected just within marriage for heterosexuals.”

The Berean League was outspoken when the US Supreme Court was considering the 1987 Bowers case which upheld sodomy laws. Here’s an excerpt from the Star Tribune from 1987:

However, Wayne Olhoft, executive director of the Berean League , a state group, said the sodomy law protects public health and morals and has a strong constitutional basis.

Nearly all 13 colonies had laws banning sodomy, and many of them carried the death penalty, Olhoft said.

“If the Supreme Court overturned the (Georgia) sodomy law, it would be seriously violating the intent of the founding fathers and the Constitution,” he said.

The increasing number of cases of AIDS, herpes and other venereal diseases indicates that sexual acts that can spread the disease are not private acts, he said.

“Society has a right to protect itself from the negative consequences of these acts,” he said. “Privacy is not the issue. The issue is the public’s health and morals.”

In 1991, Minneapolis’ police chief John Laux told the Twin Cities Christian, “I’d be extremely disappointed if it were not enforced. Sodomy is a serious law violation, and I’d want my officers to take the appropriate enforcement action.”

The law was used to imprison gay men, harass LGBT businesses, and reject LGBT rights initiatives over the course of 80 years until the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled the sodomy law unconstitutional in 2001. The Gay and Lesbian Archives of the Pacific Northwest has an extensive history of Minnesota’s sodomy laws.

The fact that the law is still on the books hasn’t escaped the notice of agents of intolerance who continue to use it to argue against full equality for LGBT Minnesotans. In 2010, Jake McMillian of the ministry You Can Run But You Cannot Hide ambushed Sen. John Marty, a DFLer who had authored a bill to legalize gay marriage in Minnesota.

“In Minnesota, there is something called the sodomy law. It governed all 50 states for quite some time. As a matter of fact, you can go to prison for the act of sodomy,” said McMillian. “Now we are debating a marriage amendment between homosexual couples, male with male which has never happened in the history of civilization, but yet we are overlooking a statute that is very valid called the sodomy law in Minnesota.”

Notwithstanding McMillian’s ignorance of jurisprudence, it’s clear the law is still being used as a weapon.

If the governor is looking for outdated statutes to repeal, the repeal of the sodomy law is long overdue. Currently, it stands as a constant reminder of the criminalization of the LGBT community in Minnesota. The Legislature and the Governor made great strides last session in enacting marriage equality and banning discrimination for LGBT people in jury service.

The next step is to remove laws that assault the dignity of LGBT people’s lives. The Governor is seeking suggestions at the “unsession” website.