piece was drafted collaboratively by CHOICE for Youth and Sexuality, Ipas,
SIECUS and World Population Foundation as a response to the World Congress of
the surface, the fifth World Congress of Families (WCF) certainly looks
like a bust. In the weeks leading up to the WCF, conference organizers
heralded the impending arrival of 4,000 "pro-family" advocates to the
liberal city of Amsterdam. The paltry 400 or so participants who
actually made their way must certainly have been a huge disappointment
to the organizers. While the poor showing makes it easy to dismiss the
WCF as fringe, fractured, and of no consequence, it is premature to
declare the decline of the movement and the end of its influence.
The World Congress of Families, which began taking shape in the
mid-1990s, has never been a movement with a particularly large or
active base. Their ability to influence policy at a national and
international level comes not from the grassroots, but rather from
their well-connected and well-established leadership. The WCF
co-sponsors are a who’s who of the conservative right-wing in the
United States, many of whom were warmly embraced by the Bush
Administration. In the last decade these individuals have nurtured
analogous conservative leadership in Eastern Europe and the developing
world to promote a similar, reactionary agenda.
One should be concerned about the WCF, not just because of what they
say, but because of what they do: influence domestic and international
policy. The WCF’s mission is to protect "the natural family," which
they define as a nuclear family with a father and mother and children.
This outdated worldview discriminates against women, is homophobic,
and upholds an offensive and outdated patriarchical system. Yet, the
WCF has succeeded in institutionalizing this model, most recently in
Romania where, last month, the government enacted the country’s new
civil code, defining marriage as only between a man and a woman. The
U.S.-based Alliance Defense Fund (ADL), a WCF partner and co-sponsor,
"provided legal counsel to several key Romanian parliamentarians who
eventually introduced and ensured the passage of the key articles on
marriage and family."
And these attacks are not just focused on more conservative countries.
Even in a liberal bastion such as the Netherlands, not only do they
want to limit legal marriage to only for a man and a woman, they want
stricter restrictions on divorce and they want to take away the rights
of gay couples to adopt.
Such extreme views are anathema to a rights-based society that respects
and values the individual. And it is this very rights-based framework
that the WCF and its organizers seek to dismember in favor of a
theocratic and ideological order. Europe and America have a long
tradition of fighting against the type of values the WCF promotes. The
antiquarian family model promoted by the WCF – a self-reliant agrarian
family with no use for a centralized government – might energize WCF
members with its quaintness and wholesomeness, but it does not resonate
with modern 21st century families.
Supporting the family – broadly defined – is not a controversial issue but
rather one we all support. What is dangerous is to legislate around
the concept of the family. Families are not finite paradigms.
Families change, they break up, sometimes they can be dangerous
environments for children. The repeated refrain at the WCF is that the
family must have primacy over the individual and that the state’s
function is to serve the family. But the Netherlands has always been
and must continue to be about the rights of the individual, of the
woman, of the child, of the man. We must continue to recognize that,
while the WCF may represent the fringe, it is still imperative to
challenge their efforts to undermine the human rights of all.