The group’s manifesto, called the “Cape Town Declaration”, pledges to defend the institution of marriage from same-sex couples, bringing together groups and leaders from more than 20 countries.
The group is effectively a reboot of the World Congress of Families, a 21-year-old federation of socially conservative organisations from around the globe. Although the group’s international summits drew attendees from dozens of countries, it was a loosely organised network of anti-abortion and anti-LGBT activists rather than a focused advocacy organisation.
Brian Brown of the United States’s National Organization for Marriage took over the group earlier this year. Rebranding as the International Organization for the Family appears to be part of positioning the group as a more muscular advocacy group targeting marriage equality. This seems to be the culmination of years of talks to form an international group modelled on Brown’s work against marriage equality in the US and similar campaigns in other countries.
“The International Organization for the Family has bold plans for the coming year,” Brown wrote in a message to supporters announcing the group’s new name.
The Cape Town Declaration proclaimed, “Bowing to no earthly power, using every just measure, we shall not falter or flag until the truth about marriage is embraced in our laws and honored in our lands.”
Signatories to the manifesto also vowed to discourage “pornography, adultery and divorce” and to “firmly [resist] every push to redefine marriage: to include same-sex or group bonds, or sexually open or temporary ones”.
The declaration has reinvigorated conservative activists from countries like Australia, where a majority of people and politicians support marriage equality, but it has not yet been legislated.
Anti-marriage-equality heavyweights Lyle Shelton from the Australian Christian Lobby, David van Gend from the Australian Marriage Forum, and Tio Faulkner from Marriage Alliance travelled to Cape Town from Australia to sign the declaration.
There were several attendees from countries that have already legalised marriage equality, including the US, South Africa, Canada, New Zealand, and Argentina. Other signatories came from countries with draconian anti-gay laws in place.
One prominent signatory is Theresa Okafor, a Nigerian activist who was a proponent of a 2014 law that made it a crime for people in same-sex relationships to live together or show any public display of affection. The bill also criminalised participation in gay clubs or societies, which is now punishable by a 10-year prison sentence in Nigeria.
Another signatory, Andrea Minichiello Williams of the UK’s Christian Concern group, has previously urged opponents of LGBT rights to continue speaking out about homosexuality and paedophilia.
“[Pro-LGBT groups] hate the line of homosexuality being linked to paedophilia. They try to cut that off, so you can’t speak about it,” she told a Christian conference in Jamaica in 2013. “So I say to you in Jamaica: Speak about it. Speak about it.”
Williams said people with views such as hers are often silenced by the media and threatened with lawsuits.
Other names listed on the declaration include Russian politician Victor Zubarev, a member of Putin’s United Russia party that brought in an anti-gay propaganda law in 2014, and Errol Naidoo, a prominent opponent to LGBT rights in South Africa.
Lyle Shelton told BuzzFeed News he was troubled “to some degree” by the views held by some signatories, and did not support criminalising gay sex or prohibiting gay people from meeting in public or forming groups.
“The reality is, the world is a complex place,” he said. “There are traditions and cultures in many, many countries, not all of which I agree with.
“But does that mean these people shouldn’t be allowed to participate in a debate about whether marriage should be redefined? Does that mean they shouldn’t be allowed to push back on Western cultural imperialism, that ties things like foreign aid to changing the definition of marriage? I think they have every right to speak up.”
Shelton stressed it was a small number of countries that had legalised marriage equality, but also criticised his own side of the debate as being “slow off the mark” with a global response.
“We’ve been very slow off the mark, and that’s why people are starting to coalesce – we’re 30 years behind,” he said. “This didn’t just happen overnight, this is the result of 30 years of concerted effort by activists who want to reshape society.”
Here is the Cape Town Declaration in full:
Spanning the globe, we have no common tongue, culture, or creed. We are divided by history and geography, by social customs and forms of government. But in foundations, we are united. We are of one mind on the bedrock of civil society, on the basis of that first and primordial community called the family: We affirm the dignity of marriage as the conjugal bond of man and woman. We embrace it not as the parochial practice of any sect or nation or age, but as the patrimony of all mankind. We defend it not as a matter of preference or temperament or taste but as the heart of any just social order.
Human beings thrive in communities. And every community finds its foundation where every human being deserves to begin: in marriage. Here a man and a woman commit to join their whole lives as one family and seal their love as one flesh. They show forth the fidelity and unity-in-diversity of any healthy community. Thus do they secure for any children born of their bond, the birthright of all men: to know the faithful love of the man and woman whose union gave them life.
Healthy marriages thus make demands of couples; but wounded ones make greater demands of whole societies. A thriving culture will therefore serve marriage—and all society—by promoting purity outside it and fidelity within; by discouraging pornography, adultery and divorce; and by firmly resisting every push to redefine marriage: to include same-sex or group bonds, or sexually open or temporary ones.
We rededicate ourselves to honoring, restoring, and protecting these truths. We commit, where possible, to refuse to deal with corporations that deny them. We pledge to resist the rising cultural imperialism of Western powers whose governments seek nothing less than the ideological colonization of the family.
Together we join in common cause, East and West, North and South, to stand for a truth that no government can change. Bowing to no earthly power, using every just measure, we shall not falter or flag until the truth about marriage is embraced in our laws and honored in our lands.
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