Byline: Don Feder, SPECIAL TO INSIGHT
Mexico City - Martha Fox, wife of Mexican President Vicente Fox, opened the World Congress of Families III in Mexico City late last month by declaring, "No matter what country we come from today, we have a common vision the value of the family. Family is the hope of the world." In his greetings to the congress, President George W. Bush expressed similar sentiments. "Around the world, families are the source of help, hope and stability for individuals and nations," Bush wrote to the delegates.
The World Congress of Families III (WCF III) included more than 3,200 pro-family leaders, scholars and activists from 75 nations who assembled on the last three days of March at Mexico City's Banamex Convention Center. The Family Network, an alliance of Mexican family groups that played host to the congress locally, was a coconvener along with the Howard Center for Family, Religion and Society of Rockford, Ill. Reflecting the broad scope and diversity of the congress, sponsors included the Civic Institute (Czech Republic), Real Women of Canada, the Latin American Alliance for the Family (Venezuela), the Australian Family Association, Focus on the Family, the Catholic Family and the Human Rights Institute.
The World Congress of Families was founded in 1997 by Allan Carlson, president of the Howard Center. In the same year, the first of these conferences was convened in Prague. WCF II took place in Geneva in 1999. As a sign of the worldwide growth of the pro-family movement, WCF III was almost three times as large as the Geneva conference.
Carlson set three goals for the Mexico City congress: (1) "to mobilize an international pro-family alliance" to counter "forces hostile to traditional family life that have tried to use the U.N. to impose their agenda"; ( 2) "to draw strength from each other and learn from each other"; and (3) "to confront threats to the family including widespread divorce, the derogation of parental rights, homosexual marriage, population-control measures and other governmental assaults on the family."
Again reflecting the diversity of the gathering, speakers included Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo (head of the Pontifical Council for the Family), Rabbi Daniel Lapin of Toward Tradition (Seattle), Farooq Hassan (an international legal consultant from Pakistan), Peter Westmore (president of the National Civic Council of Australia), Anatoli Antonov (a professor at Moscow's Lomonosov University), Babette Francis (Endeavor Forum, Australia) and Wade Horn (assistant secretary for children and families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services).
In his opening remarks, Carlson proclaimed: "The natural human family is established by the Creator and inscribed in human nature. Governments don't create families. They can recognize and nurture them, or destabilize and delegitimize them."
Just as the family is the foundation of society, marriage is the heart of the family, says Carlson, and "Marriage is also a covenant between the couple and the broader community. The bearing of children within marriage offers the best promise of new community members who will be supported and trained by parents ... and who will grow into responsible adults to contribute to the community's well-being."
In Western democracies the family is under siege. Speaking on "Feminism and the Family," Janice Shaw Crouse, a senior fellow at the Beverly LaHaye Institute, the think tank for Concerned Women for America, detailed the statistics of family decline in the United States. She noted that currently less than 52 percent of households include a married couple; since 1970, the divorce rate has increased by almost 80 percent; at the beginning of this decade, the total number of cohabiting couples approached 5 million; more than 10 million adults younger than 25 will contract a sexually transmitted disease this year; one-third of all children are born out of wedlock; since 1973 abortion has resulted in the deaths of 43 million children; and 59 percent of American children will spend a significant part of their childhood and adolescence in a single-parent family.
Both speakers and delegates recognized that to be "for the family" means to oppose those policies and trends that undercut the family. As Peter Sprigg, senior director of policy studies at the Family Research Council, put it, "We are against anything that threatens the traditional family or undermines that ideal." In consequence, said Sprigg: "We are against parents snuffing out the lives of their own unborn children through abortion. We are against drug and alcohol abuse, domestic violence and child abuse. We are against illegitimacy, abandonment and divorce. We are against any sexual behavior that would undermine the uniqueness of the faithful, lifelong marriage bond between a husband and wife. We are against premarital sex, pornography, adultery and prostitution. And yes, we are also against the practice of homosexuality."
There was a broad consensus among delegates that the move to legitimize homosexual relationships presents the most far-reaching threat to the natural family. Delegates from Latin America, Europe and English-speaking nations pondered the significance of the headlong rush toward gay marriage. The consensus among these traditionalists is that once societies begin moving away from the age-old definition of marriage (one man and one woman, united by a lifelong commitment), taboos against polygamy, group marriage and incest are likely to follow.
Some activists see homosexual marriage as one stage in a continuum. Sprigg quoted Paula Ettelbrick, executive director of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, as emphasizing that her organization's goal is to push "the parameters of sex, sexuality and family, and in the process transform the very fabric of society."
The same forces promoting gay marriage at the national level are working to undermine the family through international bodies, noted Ellen Sauerbrey, U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women. According to Sauerbrey: "At many U.N. conferences, the international 'solution' to women's problems has been to discourage childbearing and to devalue the role of parenthood particularly that of mothers. One element driving this ideology is opposition to population growth, which is seen as an obstacle to development and a symptom of oppression of women." This is so, the ambassador noted, despite the fact that in the industrialized world fertility rates are now well below replacement levels a trend that could lead to the depopulation of Europe in the decades ahead.
As Sauerbrey sees it, one of the primary vehicles for this antifamily agenda is the U.N. Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), adopted by the U.N. General Assembly in 1979. She disclosed that, in pursuit of the feminist worldview, the committee charged with enforcing CEDAW chided the Czech Republic in 1998 for establishing what it called "overprotective measures for pregnancy and motherhood." In 1999 it criticized the Constitution of the Republic of Ireland for "promoting a stereotypical view of the role of women in the home and as mothers."
At the same time, the U.N. enforcement committee told Peru to "review its law on abortion to ensure that women have access to full and complete health services, which include safe abortion." It also cautioned Chile that it was "especially concerned at the laws prohibiting and punishing any form of abortion. The committee considers these provisions to violate the human rights of women." In this way, U.N. bureaucrats are using vaguely worded conventions to usurp national sovereignty and reshape the family to suit their ideology, Sauerbrey told delegates.
The WCF III adopted its own principles as part of a Mexico City declaration setting forth guidelines for national and international family policy, including the following:
The family and society: "The natural family is the fundamental social unit, inscribed in human nature and centered on the union of a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage."
The family and marriage: "Marriage, the cornerstone of healthy family life, brings security, contentment, meaning, joy and spiritual maturity to men and women who enter this lifelong covenant with unselfish commitment."
The family and children: "The natural family provides the optimal environment for the healthy development of children."
The family and sexuality: "Sexuality exists for the expression of love between husband and wife and for the procreation of children in the covenant of marriage."
The family, life and bioethical issues: "Every human person has intrinsic value throughout the continuum of life from fertilization until natural death."
The family and education: "Parents possess the primary authority and responsibility to direct the upbringing and education of their children except in clear cases of abuse and neglect."
The family and religion: "As the primary educators, parents have the right to teach their religious and moral beliefs to their children and raise them according to their religious precepts."
The family and government: "Government should protect and support the family and not usurp the vital role it plays in society."
In Mexico City the worldwide pro-family movement met, mobilized, educated, networked and laid the groundwork for future action. Several delegations expressed interest in playing host to a World Congress of Families IV, including the Brazilian delegation. In the meantime, a related intergovernmental summit of pro-family nations will be held in the Persian Gulf state of Qatar, Nov. 29-30 of this year.
Don Feder is a contributing writer for Insight magazine.…