In a November 11th press release, the Howard Center for Family, Religion and Society announced its November 15th symposium in Washington D.C. entitled "Family Policy Lessons from Other Lands: What Should America Learn?” Scheduled speakers at the symposium heralded from right-wing organizations such as the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute (C-FAM), the Beverly LaHaye Institute, and the Population Research Institute.
According to the press release, the symposium would be a setting where American legislators and activists could learn from international initiatives, including Russia's anti-gay law, mean to affirm the "natural family".
"While the current U.S. administration persists in its efforts to redefine marriage and family, other nations are seeking a reaffirmation of the natural family. Australia has just elected a conservative government and given the largest budget area to Kevin Andrews, long-time defender of the family and World Congress of Families supporter; Russia recently banned the propaganda of “nontraditional sexual relations” to minors; and across Europe and Africa, nations are concerned with life issues, shrinking populations, and the disintegration of the natural family. Here in America, what can our pro-family legislators learn—positively and negatively—by studying our colleagues’ actions abroad?"
The implications of the meeting spurred LGBTQ rights activists into action. On November 14th, Human Rights Campaign (HRC) condemned the meeting on its website, appalled that "top American supporters of Russia’s anti-LGBT laws will come to Capitol Hill to argue that these hateful policies should serve as a model for the United States." HRC president Chad Griffin called the planned meeting an "outrage".
“These shameful individuals represent the worst of America, and it’s an outrage that they will now bring their vitriol to the United States Capitol. After spending years exporting their hate to other regions of the world and contributing to a culture of anti-LGBT violence in Russia, these zealots should be condemned by all Americans and especially by our elected leaders.”Soon thereafter, the symposium was denied its original meeting space. Right Wing Watch reports that the Howard Center for Family, Religion and Society was forced to relocate its symposium after Sen. Mark Kirk canceled their meeting room reservation at the U.S. Senate office building.
Buzzfeed reported that House Speaker John Boehner secured space for the meeting after their original space reservation was canceled.
Cue Religious Right outrage!
Incensed, several participating groups accused Sen. Kirk of discrimination and lambasted HRC for its actions. For instance, in a press release posted at Christian News Wire, the World Congress of Families expressed its disgust with HRC's actions. Larry Jacobs, managing director of the World Congress of Families, had this to say.
"It is shocking that a United States Senator would bow to pressure from these militants and refuse to facilitate the discussion of vital issues affecting children, family, life, and the economy. Groups like HRC have set themselves up as arbiters of what may or may not be discussed at public forums. Instead of meeting us in the marketplace of ideas, they take the low road of smears and intimidation, seeking to foreclose the healthy debate that’s vital to a democracy."
Jacobs insisted that the meeting was about more than Russia's "widely misunderstood" law, explaining that it was intended to cover policy initiatives on "promotion of marriage and large families, parent's rights, the promotion of home-schooling, the encouragement of family-owned businesses, the benefits of religious faith, the protection of women and children from human trafficking, and the legal protection of life from conception to natural death..."
Allan Carlson, president of World Congress of Families, expressed frustration with attempts to thwart the meeting. "A great fear seems to be descending over what has been called the world’s greatest deliberative body … ideas are being suppressed, debate is being shut off, and minds are being closed," he said, according to Buzzfeed.
Additionally, Family Research Council was also offended that Sen. Kirk canceled their space reservation after "homosexual activists" criticized the event. In a November 19th press release, FRC president Tony Perkins demanded an apology from Sen. Kirk.
"Sen. Kirk's decision is true discrimination, silencing anyone who doesn't adhere to a politically correct view of sexuality.Illinois Family Institute cultural analyst Laurie Higgins blasted Sen. Kirk in a hyperbolic commentary. Higgins fumed at Sen. Kirk's alleged "obamaniacal act of hubris" in allying himself with "homosexual activists". She defended the homophobia of the groups scheduled to meet in Senate space, accusing Sen. Kirk of abusing his position "to normalize sexual deviance".
"We welcome open debate about policy differences on social issues. However, Sen. Kirk's decision to cancel the event signals that he wants to silence those who disagree with him. We are encouraged by the many Illinois residents who have stood up in support of the Howard Center and its right to free speech and freedom of assembly.
"Holding a different view of marriage and sexuality is not discriminatory - especially when all the social science research demonstrates the benefits of the natural family."
"If Kirk considers these scholars hate-promoters, then logically he must call all orthodox Christian theologians hate-promoters for every contemporary orthodox theologian and every theologian in the history of Christendom has held the same views on the nature of marriage and the nature and morality of homosexuality as these panel participants ... Sen. Kirk thinks that it’s hateful to believe that marriage is inherently sexually complementary, but not hateful to kill the unborn. To Kirk, cross-dressing and perverse sexual acts are moral goods and fighting for the rights of children to survive the womb and be raised by a mother and father are moral evils. What kind of man thinks like this? C.S. Lewis calls men like this “men without chests,” and Isaiah warns, “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness.”The controversy surrounding this meeting (and its space cancellation) serves as a reminder that American Religious Right voices still hold fast to homophobia. LGBTQ rights supporters should also take note of the Religious Right's desire to learn from anti-gay legislation in other countries. If the Religious Right is paying close attention to anti-gay initiatives around the globe, so should we.