Conservative group plans conference in Utah

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — An international conservative group that opposes homosexuality is planning its first worldwide conference in the U.S. next year — a four-day gathering in Utah, a state that has become a focal point in the gay marriage movement.

The World Congress of Families is based in Rockford, Ill., and has about 40 partner organizations, including Focus on the Family and the Family Research Council. The group brings together people of different religions and ethnicities to promote the “natural human family,” which it believes consists of a man and woman raising children with love and discipline.

The organization had to cancel this year’s international conference in Moscow due to turmoil related to Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine. Its previous world conferences were in Madrid, Amsterdam, Warsaw, Mexico City, Geneva and Prague.

The World Congress of Families chose Salt Lake City for its October 2015 gathering because it has many good partner organizations in Utah, spokesman Don Feder said. The Sutherland Institute is leading the planning for the event, which is expected to draw about 3,000 people.

The group’s previous events have been in Madrid, Amsterdam, Warsaw, Mexico City, Geneva and Prague.

The World Congress of Families also will hold a smaller, regional conference in Salt Lake City this fall, Feder said.

The Human Rights Campaign, which supports gay rights and gay marriage, is an outspoken critic of the organization. Ty Cobb, the Human Rights Campaign’s director of global engagement, said the World Congress of Families is a network of extremist groups that has been working to promote anti-LGBT rhetoric and legislation abroad including in Russia and several African countries. Cobb called Salt Lake City a strange choice for the worldwide conference.

“Whatever the World Congress of Families may believe in their head about the values of people of Salt Lake City, they are wrong,” Cobb said. “The values of the people of Salt Lake City are ones that promote inclusivity.”

The World Congress of Families opposes homosexuality and abortion. It doesn’t partner with religions, but Feder said there are certainly members of the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints among its devotees.

“Marriage between a man and a woman forms the sole moral context for natural sexual union,” the World Congress of Families’ website says. “Whether through pornography, promiscuity, incest or homosexuality, deviations from these created sexual norms cannot truly satisfy the human spirit.”

The theme of the Salt Lake City event likely will be religious liberty, Feder said.

“We’ve always believed faith is one of the underpinnings of the natural family,” he said.

Utah has become one of the focal points for the gay marriage movement since a federal judge in December struck down the state’s same-sex marriage ban, which triggered a string of similar rulings by judges in other states. A federal appeals court recently upheld that ruling, and the state of Utah plans to appeal.

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