“Family Rights” Frame Disguises Right Wing Propaganda

Ariana Childs Graham

The religious right's misleading use of the human rights and evidence-based frameworks were on full display at the UN High-Level Meeting on AIDS.

Last month’s United Nations High Level Meeting on AIDS drew government officials and members of
civil society from around the world to UN headquarters. During the meeting, individuals came together and caucused around
particular issue areas, including the seemingly-innocuous concept of "family rights," at the Family Rights Caucus. But "family rights" is often a blind used to usher
in a host of right wing biases.

This caucus was convened by the
Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute (C-FAM), Family Watch
International (FWI), National Association for Research and Therapy of
Homosexuality (NARTH) and Jews Offering New Alternatives to Homosexuality
(JONAH). Lynn Allred, Communications
Director for Family Watch International, framed the purpose of the
discussion in her opening statements: to uphold religious freedom and parental
rights and to defend the beliefs that marriage can only exist between a man and a
woman and that "the family is the foundational unit of society." After Allred’s introduction, we knew
what was in store: good old-fashioned
right wing propaganda. But the Right
has learned a thing or two in recent years that has greatly influenced their
advocacy approach. Old-fashioned propaganda comes with a very new spin.

First, the Right has learned the importance of
tailoring messages to a specific audience. Sensationalized defamation and
name-calling may play well when preaching to supporters, but doing so in a
setting such as the High Level Meeting undermines their legitimacy. Using human rights language and
creating arguments which can stand up to some logical inquiry, however, is less
likely to alienate those who find sensational rhetoric
offensive or unreasonable. When Sharon
Slater, President of Family Watch International asked, "Is stigmatizing high
risk behavior the same as stigmatizing an individual with HIV?" this was not an
innocent question, but a careful calculation on how to undermine sexual rights
while seeming to appear fair-minded.

Later in the discussion, Slater told the audience that
she has a very good friend who smokes and that she frequently talks to this
friend about how she can get help. She stressed that in these conversations, she
addressed the behavior not the
individual. This is classic homosexual
conversion rhetoric, which came as no surprise given the presence of Arthur A.
Goldberg, Board member of NARTH, Co-Director of JONAH, and President of
Positive Alternatives to Homosexuality (PATH).
He argued that many people experience unwanted same-sex attraction for which treatment is available,
stressing that the focus is on the rooting out the behavior and not attacking
the person. I was unconvinced. He
followed this statement with a discussion of a scientific study conducted by
homosexual researchers (he made sure we took note of this fact) that
demonstrated that no homosexual relationship is 100% monogamous. Goldberg argued that the conclusion to take
away from this study was that all homosexual relationships were promiscuous and high risk. He emphasized
the fact that these researchers were homosexuals
who conducted this study of their own
so they had no ulterior motive. He concluded that "we’re not promoting religious values — we’re staying in the secular, scientific
and evidence based." Can those of us
advocating for sexual and reproductive health and rights can count that as a
win — that the "evidence-based" argument has been so
successful that it has been co-opted by the right? It’s a bittersweet victory.

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Another key lesson learned by right-wing advocates is to
have a seat at the table, or at least close to the table. The mandates of organizations like C-FAM and
Family Watch International include participating in proceedings and meetings at the
international level. C-FAM’s mission is “[t]o defend life and family at international institutions and to
publicize the debate,” carried out through their
vision, which is
[t]he preservation of international law by discrediting
socially radical policies at the United Nations and other international

Austin Ruse, President and Founder of C-FAM had this to say
at the 1999 World Congress of Families meeting in Geneva:

We have arrived at a perilous moment in the life of the
family. Long under attack by her enemies, the family seems now to be
disintegrating all around us. In every country of the developed world, families
are breaking up under a plethora of pernicious pathologies. The roots of the
attack, and their result are easily enumerated by most of the current social
science data. But I will focus on one institution
with which I am most familiar, the United Nations, an institution that is
increasingly at the forefront of the attack on the family.

Piero A. Tozzi, Executive Vice President and General Counsel
of C-FAM, stated in the caucus meeting that organizations like C-FAM are
present to support countries who believe that families play an important role in
society. They do so by convening small, closed meetings with country delegates
as well as calling open meetings such as the Family Rights Caucus which can draw
anyone present. In the June 25 edition of the Family
Watch International newsletter
, Slater reported that "caucus meeting allowed [them] to identify new allies in
several countries, including an official UN delegate representing Kenya, who pleaded with [them] to come to Kenya as soon
as possible to launch an African movement for the family." Their successes come
not only in influencing language and content of negotiated documents, but in
the relationships forged to further spread their messages. The organizations
represented in this caucus meeting are increasingly committed to their mission
of engaging in international advocacy. It will serve us well to continue
to keep watch on where they go and how they get there.

In recent years there has been a proliferation of
organizations—both in the United States and around the globe—that
exist to limit individuals’ access to sexual and reproductive health
information, education, and services. SIECUS believes that it is vital
for advocates of sexual health and reproductive rights (SRHR) to stay
up-to-date on the goals, thoughts, and activities of these organizations.
To help advocates around the world, we monitor right-wing
organizations and news sources and compile a digest of their articles on topics
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