An obscure Religious Right group met this week in Salt Lake City, Utah, to outline its fundamentalist vision for the United States.
The World Congress of Families (WCF), which meets every few years on no particular schedule, is a project of Hillsdale College professor Allan C. Carlson’s Howard Center for Family, Religion & Society. This year, it boasted Utah Gov. Gary Herbert (R) and Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback (R) among its more prominent speakers.
As I previously reported for Church & State magazine, the WCF advocates policies that are extreme even by fundamentalist standards. Their platform, as outlined by Carlson and his associate, Paul T. Mero, in their publication “The Natural Family: A Manifesto” articulates demands to end same-sex marriage, no-fault divorce, abortion rights, contraception access and, puzzlingly, “the aggressive state promotion of androgyny.”
But never fear. Carlson and Mero don’t just want to repeal things. No, they have suggestions too—like “encouraging” employers to pay a “family wage to heads of households.” Those heads of households, of course, are male. The authors lauded 19th century laws that allocated one wage per family paid out to fathers. The policies devised by Carlson and Mero would effectively ban women from working.
There’s a distinctly anti-federalist tone to the WCF and its materials, too. Carlson and Mero define the family as “the first and fundamental unit of society.” They define this in a political sense, and place it first in a strange governmental hierarchy.
“Just political life also flows out of natural family homes. True sovereignty originates here. These homes are the source of ordered liberty, the fountain of real democracy, the seedbed of virtue,” they wrote, adding that Theodore Roosevelt said, “Even a nation is ‘nothing but the aggregate of the families within its borders.’”
The WCF’s disdain for the concept of a strong federal government didn’t deter Brownback and Herbert from speaking at the event, but both governors attempted to distance themselves from the values of its organizers.
“The Governor was invited to discuss strategies to lift individuals out of poverty including fostering family structure, superior education and the dignity of work, as ways to put people on a path to a better life,” Brownback’s spokeswoman, Eileen Hawley, told The Eagle Topeka.
At a press conference last week, Herbert told reporters he intended to appear simply as a courtesy. “We’re a very welcoming state. We’ve got a lot of people here in our own community who have diverse points of views and ideas,” he said. “We don’t agree on everything, so it’s appropriate for the governor to go to this organization and say, ‘Welcome to the state of Utah. We hope you enjoy your stay here.”
This explanation did not mollify gay rights groups; the WCF has been labelled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. And there’s good reason for that.
The WCF, as one might guess from the name, isn’t primarily concerned with the United States. Previous congresses have been held in Prague, Geneva, Mexico City, Warsaw, Amsterdam, Madrid, Sydney and Moscow. Extreme anti-gay legislation historically follows the events, and that’s no coincidence, as Cole Parke explained at The Daily Beast yesterday.
Russia’s infamous law against “gay propaganda” passed partially due to significant support from the WCF and its allies in the country.
“In fact, rather than being the brainchild of a few homophobic Kremlin insiders, Russia’s Anti-Propaganda Law had emerged from a years-long, carefully crafted campaign to influence governments to adopt a Christian-Right legal framework,” Parke wrote. “And at the center of it all was a whole slate of WCF-ers, including Alexei Komov and Yelena Mizulina on the Russian side, Allan Carlson and Larry Jacobs on the American side.”
That law sparked vigilante violence against LGBT people and some gay rights activists have been jailed.
Scott Lively, also a WCF associate, helped organize the Moscow congress. He’s currently being sued by Sexual Minorities Uganda for drumming up support for that country’s repeated efforts to criminalize homosexuality; Lively has, at various points, blamed the Holocaust, the AIDS epidemic and the Rwandan genocide on LGBT people.
So it’s disturbing that any elected official would agree to appear at the event. It’s disturbing, too, that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints showered it with official support. The Sutherland Institute, a right-wing think tank with strong ties to the church, hosted the congress. Elder M. Russell Ballard, who sits on the Quorum of Twelve Apostles, spoke at the event and today’s final proceedings featured a performance by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
The WCF and its allies in the U.S. should understand that their policy goals have no chance of success here. The First Amendment stands squarely in their path. But don’t expect them to give up anytime soon.