Rewire Exclusive: Over the next several days, SIECUS’s
opposition researcher will be providing ongoing coverage of the World
Congress of Families, including reporting on discussions of such topics
as "the natural family," "traditional values," marriage and family
configurations, demographic shifts, pre-determined sex-specific roles,
HIV/AIDS, and family related policies at national and international
The fifth World Congress of
Families (WCF), a "pro-family" gathering convened by a group of
extreme right-wing organizations from around the world and the United
States, brings together both "experts" and the inexperienced alike
to galvanize the base – particularly seeking to jump-start extreme social
causes in the host countries and regions of the WCF.
WCF organizers explicitly selected
the Netherlands as a challenge of sorts because of its progressive social
policies, such as wide-ranging childcare coverage and school-based comprehensive
sexuality education. Last year’s event, which was held in Poland,
must make this year’s conference seem like a foray into enemy territory.
In Amsterdam, however, the Right seems to be facing an identity crisis,
as a slightly more liberal or progressive edge is clearly present, yet
remains in the background. The most notable of these slight progressive
influences is the presence of some speakers who may not share the delusional
imaginings of the WCF lead organizers.
The opening act for day one
of the WCF was considered a coup for the event’s organizers. Andre
Rouvoet, Minister of Youth and Family in the Netherlands, delivered
words of welcome, via a pre-recorded message, to an audience of no more
than 400. But was Rouvoet’s participation really the boon it was billed
to be? He delivered a somewhat vague statement until a section of his
remarks in which he challenged WCF participants to accept "any form
of family structure"- to build "bridges of living in a pluralist
society" despite a "difference of opinion on aspects of policy."
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Still, countless speakers after
him affirmed their definition of a family was based on the marriage
between one man and one woman. We aren’t even just talking about state-sanctioned
unions. In the film Fireproof: Never Leave Your Partner Behind, shown
Monday evening to WCF participants, a couple renews their vows in a
covenant marriage, which seeks to restore marriage to a religiously-based
"sacred covenant" and not merely a " civil contract." Isn’t
this tacit rejection of a diversity of family structures espoused by
the invited Rouvoet also the very foundation of the WCF? This wasn’t
the only seeming inconsistency in messaging from the WCF participants.
For example, during remarks
delivered on the subject of parents as partners with the education sector,
Dutch educational advisor, Jet Weigard, invoked the oft-referenced work
of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her call that it takes
a "village to raise a child." In a disorienting shift, Weigard was
followed by Pat Fagan, Director for the Center on Family and Religion
at the Family Research Council, who listed, ad infinitum, the range
of psychological damage that could ensue, both to the child and the
mother, when a child is cared for by someone other than the mother-
no village endorsement there. Michael Farris, Chairman of the Home School
Legal Defense Association, also entirely contradicted Weigard when claimed
that homeschooling was superior to sending children to educational institutions
and that it also socialized them better than is possible in schools.
Farris, as well as Peter Van
Zuidam, head of the Netherlands Association for Home Education, invoked
an extensive list of citations from international human rights instruments
validating the right to school a child outside of a state institution.
Practically in the same breath, Farris assured the audience of an afternoon
workshop session that despite a promise from the Obama administration
that it would soon ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child
(which even the Holy See has ratified), this would never happen as homeschooling
advocates would rise up to defend the sovereignty of the family against
international law. Mr. Farris apparently sees no conflict in claiming
sanctuary from international law out of one side of his mouth while
denouncing it from the other.
The question remains: was this
convoluted and contradictory series of ramblings an intentional strategy
on the part of the organizers to draw in more progressive or at least
less extreme ideas? Perhaps. But if so, it was like asking a juggler
to pull off Macbeth. There was absolutely no substance and no effort
to contextualize, leaving the impression of bumbling incoherence and
inconsistency. In other words, if it was an attempt at mainstreaming,
it was a failed one.
The disjointed narrative on
display at the WCF is more a symptom of the soul searching that often
occurs when an oasis turns out to be a mirage. As most of the groups
assembled at the WCF are American or American-inspired, the end of the
social conservative assault on America was ushered in with the collapse
of their domestic power base at home and now has reverberations that
reach to Amsterdam and back.
And that is why we are here
monitoring this group of extremists. For it is times like these, where
meaning is sought, that either a wellspring is rediscovered or the hollow
shell collapses in upon itself. Our collective job as advocates of sexual
and reproductive health and rights is to facilitate – and hasten –
Stay tuned for lessons and
analysis from Day 2.