“Radical Feminists, Homosexuals and Abortionists are taking over and The Family and National Sovereignty are under threat!” This seemed to be the mantra of several morning sessions on the third and final day of the World Congress of Families V (WCF) in Amsterdam, Netherlands. All good advocacy has a good dose of theatrics – or at least it ought to if it works and captivates the target audience.
As my boss is fond of saying, its got to contain just the right balance of “head” stuff – concrete ideas and concepts — and “heart” stuff — the qualitative material that tugs at the emotions — if advocacy is going to work. The WCF folks seem to have abandoned such a strategic approach. Instead, what we are hearing here on the last day is ramped-up, dire chicken-little warnings meant to scare the bejesus out of attendees. One storyline that is getting particularly good play here is that radical groups have taken over international institutions and are implementing their own extreme agenda of social experimentation at the national level. That’s right they have taken over the UN and are infiltrating a town near you with their agenda of abortion on demand and homosexual recruitment of young children. I recognize this is not entirely new, but this is the crowd that believes it to be true and is intent on convincing others of its veracity as well.
Most notable for warping the truth, Austin Ruse, Executive Director of ultra-conservative Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute (C-FAM) rallied the troops during the session “Law and Challenges for the Family: Special Panel” claiming that that the pro-life and pro-family movement had “missed the forest for the trees” while the “UN radicals” from their “lofty and elite perches” made the greatest power grab. He further claimed that these “transnational progressives seek to usurp power from nations and their people.” According to him, this is being done through the creation of soft-law in non-binding UN resolutions, and hard law, such as legally binding international treaties, and most insidiously carried out through human rights treaty bodies, which are committees composed of independent experts that monitor implementation of the treaty they pertain to. These bodies, he argues, are the greatest offense to modern democracy as they are composed of “ideologically driven private citizens” who are appointed and not democratically elected, and issue findings, thereby “forcing” countries to change their laws, on such things as criminalization of abortion, violating their sovereignty. Ruse depicts a rogue band, as threatening to the “developing” world as it is to the “developed” world, who employ “trickery” and “lies” to defeat the three primary institutions of natural law, ordained by god: church, family and the state.
Volumes have been written on the sustainability of natural law arguments in the modern age and we cannot revisit that discussion here. Needless to say, positive law – that is law made by people – exists because natural law on its own is not sufficient to answer the complexities of the modern world. But it is the continued assault by those at the WCF on any law itself that they deem inconsistent with natural law frameworks. Take, for example, the notion that human rights treaties are destructive and violate state sovereignty. In order for a country to be legally bound to the norms and standards found in an international human rights treaty (with exception to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which is now considered customary international law) – it must have signed and ratified the treaty, thereby accepting the legal provisions as their own. No one is coercing anyone – the nation has accepted those standards of their own volition and commits to embedding them into their own legal framework. Do Mr. Ruse and the WCF organizers suggest that they know better than nations that pledge themselves to these treaties? Well, yes. And that is what makes them so dangerous when they become organized and make continual attempts at mainstreaming themselves, as has been the pattern at the meeting here in Amsterdam.
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Not to be outdone by Ruse, Gwendolyn Landolt, National Vice President of REAL Women of Canada, issued related warnings in her paper “The Importance of Inter-religious Cooperation to Family Policy Development, UN, National and Local Levels” at the session entitled “Family, Faith and the Freedom of Speech.” Landolt stated that the “UN is at the forefront of the effort to undermine families and faith…[promoting] sexual rights outside of the family, abortion-referred to under the UN code words of ‘sexual and reproductive health’—and the undermining of the natural family of mother, father and children.” She even cites cases in which country delegates “under UN influence”— as if the UN is somehow akin to a drug — have acted in defiance of a country’s policy position.
While such arguments and fear mongering may serve to solidify the so-called pro-life and pro-family movements, it does little to facilitate sincere and authentic dialogue to arrive at real policy conclusions. Instead, it deliberately muddies the waters by instilling distrust in international systems designed to promote peace, stability, and increased cooperation and in, the end, ultimately facilitates an isolationist ideal which presupposes its own moral superiority, and leaves us all wanting for real solutions.
And, as the final day of the conference drew to a close, WCF again was confronted by the challenge posed by their attempts to mainstream their views when invited speakers disagreed with their fundamental premises. For example, at the concluding session, several Dutch and one Australian Members of Parliament shared their thoughts on the World Congress of Families itself, the issues addressed in the Amsterdam Congress, and specifically the position statements outlined in the “Amsterdam Declaration,” a summary document issued that sums up the affirmations of the WCF participants. While the response was respectful and some points expressed agreement, several of the speakers expressed dissent and disagreement. Mirjam Sterk, a member of the Dutch Parliament from the Christian Democratic Party, expressed her and her party’s support for the family and ensuring the happiness and well being of its members, but also said that they differ from the WCF supporters in their definition of the family. She claimed that marriage is not just a man and a woman and their children, but could be a same sex partnership that even included children. The room was silent and then delayed gasps came forth.
Joel Voordewind, a member of the Dutch Parliament from the Christian Union party said that he disagreed with the statements regarding HIV, in that he agreed with promoting abstinence and being faithful as well as character building, but believed that condoms could not be excluded, particularly for sero-discordant couples. On another topic, he expressed that women should not be relegate to the home, but be given access to an education and a profession. He boldly continued to state that not only should women be supported in their home and work balance to care for their children, but that men should also receive support so they can spend time with their children. More gasps…
That WCF organizers permitted a space for dissenting opinions is noteworthy, although the end result didn’t quite achieve the goal of mainstreaming their own extreme views. In fact, it backfired, laying open to public view the backward and offensive positions that WCF has been carefully cultivating and spreading across the globe for the past 15 years and picking up new adherents all along the way.
The turn out in Amsterdam was astonishingly small and SIECUS and other groups that have been working to marginalize this group can hope that the unmitigated failure that was WCF V is the result of consistent advocacy over many years. It is too early to tell. But what is clear is that WCF has had tremendous influence in galvanizing forces during other Congresses and regional meetings. Perhaps taking their message to the heart of all they find wrong in the modern world – to Amsterdam (sorry Dutch colleagues) – was overly ambitious. Perhaps.
In the coming weeks, SIECUS will follow our tradition of issuing a full report on the WCF as a special report of our International Right Wing Watch. A special thanks to World Population Foundation, Ipas and CHOICE for working with us hand in hand in Amsterdam.