On June 29-30, the World Congress of Families hosted the 2011 Moscow Demographic Summit in Moscow, Russia. While I could not afford to attend an event halfway around the world, I would like to bring attention to the summit because of its themes and the involvement of several prominent right-wing organizations.
The World Congress of Families is an Illinois-based organization that focuses on demographics and family. In an online pamphlet for the Moscow Demographic Summit, members of the World Congress of Families are described as opponents of sexual minorities, radical feminists, and the childfree movement. The pamphlet lists several prominent right-wing organizations as members and partner organizations, including Focus on the Family, National Right to Life Committee, Concerned Women for America, and many others.
According to its website, the World Congress of Families asserts that the "natural human family" has been established by the Creator and is crucial for society. The "natural family" is understood as a voluntary, lifelong marriage of a man and a woman, defined by procreation or adoption. Societies that abandon this family framework as the norm risk courting chaos, the website warns. Heterosexual marriage is deemed the only appropriate setting for sexual union, and alleged "deviations" such as promiscuity, homosexuality, and incest produce alienation, illness, and remorse, the website claimed. Frankly, I found it offensive that homosexuality and promiscuity were lumped into the same moral category as incest, which spoke volumes about the organization's worldview. To boot, this narrow definition of family excludes LGBT couples and non-nuclear families.
The World Congress of Families website claims that individualism, the sexual revolution, and "statism" threaten the natural family, along with other alleged threats including low fertility, divorce, promiscuity, abortion, STDs, sexual identity "confusion", and "morally relativistic" education in public schools. (To be fair, however, the website also acknowledges legitimate threats to family life, including poverty, child abuse, and violence against women.) Evolving attitudes toward sexuality, abortion, and ominous notions of public schooling and "statism" are all cast as supposed poisons to the family. (Sound familiar?)
Startlingly, the website insists that depopulation, rather than overpopulation, is the chief population problem facing the globe. (Given that the world population is quickly approaching 7 billion people, I remain doubtful of this assertion.) Many countries are experiencing below-replacement level fertility due to contraception use, abortion, shrinking family size, and some people's lack of interest in marriage, the website claims. This concern over alleged depopulation was the driving theme behind the 2011 Moscow Demographic Summit.
Several right-wing American voices were on the summit itinerary, including members of the Family Research Council and Concerned Women for America. To boot, the itinerary stated that Alan Keys was scheduled to deliver a talk entitled "Demographic Winter: Moral Chill as Cause and Consequence" on June 29th. Presenters from prominent anti-abortion organizations such as Heartbeat International and Human Life International were also scheduled to speak, as were multiple religious figures from Russia. Many of the scheduled workshops addressed marriage, fertility, anti-abortion efforts, and demographic winter as they applied to Russia, but the themes were familiar. Ah, to be a fly on the wall at that summit, I thought.
The 2011 Moscow Demographic Summit Declaration asserts that the "natural family" is not only the fundamental unit of society, but an indispensable prerequisite for the existence of civilization. The declaration dismisses the threat of overpopulation, instead expressing concern over the approach of alleged global depopulation. The document alleged that the family is currently threatened by "contraceptive thinking", premarital sex, divorce, and a litany of "deviations." Among these alleged "deviations" are homosexuality, ped0philia, abortion, prostitution, and refusal to marry and bear children. Again, I was disgusted that homosexuality, reproductive choice, and the choice to be childfree were lumped together in the same moral category as ped0philia and the sex trade.
The Moscow Demographic Summit Declaration urges governments and international organizations to adopt "pro-family" demographic policies, as well as strategies aimed at increasing birth rates and combat abortion. Alarmingly, it also demands an end to so-called "interference" with family life through family planning, gender equality, and children's rights (!). Birth control policies, the document claims, are threats to humanity's survival, adding that every family has the right of reproductive choice.
And what if a couple chooses to delay childbearing, or forgo it altogether? I thought. So couples can have reproductive choice, as long as they choose to breed? That's like saying you can have any color car you want, as long as it's black. Thoughts of the Quiverfull movement suddenly came to mind.
What impact this summit will have on policy and family life in Russia remains to be seen. The Moscow Demographic Summit serves as a reminder that the Religious Right's influence is global, and that right-wing attitudes toward family and reproduction are not limited to the U.S. The summit declaration's vision of family and reproduction would have serious ramifications for women's rights, reproductive rights, and LGBT rights, and defenders of these rights should take note.
To learn more about the World Congress of Families, click here.
To dowload the 2011 Moscow Demographic Summit Declaration click here.
To download the 2011 Moscow Demographic Summit program, click here.
To read additional commentary, visit the following links.
God Discussion: Refusal of Marriage and Childbearing is a Social Deviation, International Pro-Family Group Claims
New York Times: Russians Adopt U.S. Tactics in Opposing Abortion