SALT LAKE CITY – Religious leaders and pro-family advocates from around the globe have gathered in Salt Lake City for the World Congress of Families this week. But gay rights activists say the conference has an anti-gay agenda.
Religious leaders who spoke at the opening of the Ninth World Congress of Families say the traditional family is under attack and they hope to spread the message that families are the fundamental unit of society.
“The World Congress of Families is the largest international gathering of faith leaders, advocates, researchers, academics and just people of good will who seek to promote the family,” said Stan Swim, chairman of the World Congress of Families.
The organization was started by several Russian Orthodox priests and an American theologian. A law graduate from Brigham Young University kept it going.
“We do have Muslims, some Jews, Catholics, Protestants, of course, being here in Utah we have a lot of LDS people, as well,” Swim said.
The event is hosted in a new country each year and this is the first time it’s being held in the U.S. Elder M. Russell Ballard, from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, spoke at Tuesday’s opening event.
“The supreme court correctly recognized that many sincere and reasonable people in the world continue to recognize traditional marriage,” Ballard said.
Ballard openly advocates for the traditional family, with a mother, father and children.
“Marriage is a union between two persons of the opposite sex,” he said.
Gay rights activists say the conference preaches against gay rights and gay relations and that organizers support countries that use violence against LGBT people.
“There are people all over the world – LGBT people all over the world, who are facing persecution just because they are gay or transgender,” said Troy Williams, executive director of Equality Utah. “And so we ought, as a people in Utah, to have so much empathy and compassion for those who are different, for those who are victims of violence.”
But World Congress leaders say the organization is not about hate.
“We understand there’s some differences, let’s have a good-faith discussion and understand what we can do to reduce problems like divorce, like kids growing up in poverty, like improving educational outcomes for kids -- all of these things are, I think, common cause for lots of people of good will,” Swim said.
The conference is at the Grand America Hotel in Salt Lake City and goes until Friday.
Officials say registration is limited due to the high volume of people. For more information, visit worldcongress.org.