Criminalizing Sex: Six U.S. Anti-Gay Groups Abroad

In recent years, and especially since the 2003 Lawrence v. Texas Supreme Court decision striking down U.S. anti-sodomy laws, religious-right organizations that oppose LGBT rights have taken their struggle abroad, where public attitudes toward gay people are often far harsher than in the United States. In effect, these groups are fighting an ideological battle overseas that they are increasingly losing at home on such policies as the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” approach that the Obama administration ended in 2011. The rapid pace of states legalizing same-sex marriage — 13 at press time, with Illinois also considering a similar move — and changing attitudes toward sexual minorities also have added to these groups’ sense of desperation, leading to their putting more and more effort into their anti-LGBT work in other nations.

Six major U.S.-based groups are key to this effort and have taken their cause to foreign governments or international bodies like the United Nations. They range from purely religious organizations to legal groups and represent a range of faiths, from evangelical Christianity to Catholicism to Mormonism. Each has, in one way or another, sanctioned the idea of criminalizing gay sex — putting people in prison as a punishment for private, consensual sex between adults. Lawyers from two of the groups — the Alliance Defending Freedom and the Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute — are advising a coalition in Belize that is seeking to defend the Central American country’s criminalization statute in court. Three of the groups — the Alliance Defending Freedom, the American Center for Law and Justice, and United Families International — filed amicus briefs in the Lawrence case that sought to defend U.S. sodomy laws that effectively outlawed gay sex. Four of them have consultative status at the UN, giving them special access and input to the deliberations of the UN’s Economic and Social Council, which was established to promote economic and social progress and fundamental human rights.

Some of these groups are also part of the so-called “Baptist-burqa” alliance that brings together anti-gay Christian groups and anti-gay Muslim groups, many from countries that punish gay sex with penalties that can include death. These are truly strange bedfellows, given that many of these same Muslim countries repress or even outlaw Christianity, something that the U.S.-based Christian groups apparently are willing to overlook in their eagerness to take on the LGBT community.

What follows are profiles of six key U.S. groups active abroad. 


Alliance Defending Freedom

President: Alan Sears

Headquarters: Scottsdale, Ariz.

The Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) was founded in 1994 as the Alliance Defense Fund (the name was changed in 2012) by a group of high-profile activists of the American religious right, including James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family; D. James Kennedy, leader of the influential Coral Ridge Ministries (now Truth in Action Ministries); and Bill Bright, founder of Campus Crusade for Christ. Its board is stacked with prominent law firm partners and Christian Right heavyweights like Focus on the Family’s Tom Minnery, Campus Crusade for Christ COO John Rogers, and former USA Radio Network President Mark Maddoux.

With an annual budget of $30 million, a staff of 44 lawyers, and another 2,200 lawyers allied with the organization, the ADF specializes in legal work where it believes religious freedom is being violated. It says its work is needed because the ACLU and others “have been working aggressively” to impose “an anti-Christian, pro-abortion, pro-homosexual agenda on the Body of Christ in Europe, Canada, Latin America, and elsewhere. … By using foreign and transnational law to re-interpret and re-write established precedent, they seek to validate the enforcement of radical new rights that will advance the homosexual agenda, destroy marriage, eliminate Christian religious liberty, and impose an aggressive anti-life agenda on us all.” The organization’s biggest recent case was Hollingsworth v. Perry, where California’s Proposition 8 referendum, barring same-sex marriage in that state, was challenged before the U.S. Supreme Court. The Court overturned the law on technical grounds in June, thereby legalizing same-sex marriage in California.

The ADF has a record of sharp anti-gay bigotry. Its president, Alan Sears, co-wrote a rabidly anti-gay 2003 book, sold by the ADF, called The Homosexual Agenda: Exposing the Principal Threat to Religious Freedom Today. The book is filled with anti-gay diatribes and argues that the demise of anti-sodomy laws will lead to overturning “laws against pedophilia, sex between close relatives, polygamy, bestiality and all other distortions and violations of God’s plan.” Also in 2003, the ADF sent out a “prayer alert” that said overturning the laws would “be an affront to our Constitution, to our nation’s heritage and history, and to God’s Word.” It filed an amicus brief defending anti-sodomy laws in Lawrence v. Texas.

Today, the group is increasingly committed to international anti-LGBT work. Its website has an entire section, marked “Global,” that describes its work around the world for “religious liberty, the sanctity of life, and marriage and family.” In January 2010, the ADF secured special consultative status at the UN. The following year, it sent out an alert celebrating a foreign law that punished LGBT advocacy of any kind with a 10-year prison sentence. The group’s senior legal counsel on global issues is Piero Tozzi, a hard-liner who also is a former senior fellow at the Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute (see below). Tozzi and ADF lawyer Brian Raum are now advising groups defending the constitutionality of a statute that criminalizes gay sex in Belize.

Tozzi spoke at the 2012 World Congress of Families (see below) in Madrid, Spain, warning of legal efforts to institute global protections for LGBT people and at a 2011 Jamaica pro-criminalization conference. Another key staffer in the ADF’s international work is Roger Kiska, who is currently based in Vienna, Austria, according to the ADF, where he is developing an allied attorney network in Europe. Last year, Kiska was elected to the advisory panel of the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA), a European human rights agency. In 2011, Kiska criticized FRA as a pawn of the “homosexual agenda.”

American Center for Law and Justice

Chief Counsel: Jay Sekulow

The American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) was founded in 1990 by Pat Robertson, the televangelist who also began the Christian Coalition and the Christian Broadcasting Network, where he hosts “The 700 Club.” Robertson, who remains board president, said he started the group to “stop the ACLU in court” after, he said in 2011, God spoke to him and told him such an organization “will be needed as never before.” The group says it “engages legal, legislative, and cultural issues by implementing an effective strategy of advocacy, education and litigation.”

Along with the Alliance Defending Freedom, the ACLJ is one of the main U.S. religious-right legal powerhouses, and it has built partnerships with an array of Christian Right groups, including the rabidly anti-gay American Family Association. It argues that the government is hostile to Christianity and claims that the Founding Fathers did not intend a strict separation of church and state.

The ACLJ is particularly active in battles over marriage equality and helped draft the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, the federal law that defined marriage as the “legal union of one man and one woman” but that was struck down by the Supreme Court in June. It filed an amicus brief supporting efforts to keep sodomy illegal in the 2003 Lawrence v. Texas Supreme Court case.

The ACLJ is led by Jay Alan Sekulow, a messianic Jew and a former general counsel for Jews for Jesus; his son, Jordan, began serving as executive director after a stint on Mitt Romney’s unsuccessful 2012 presidential campaign. Sekulow argues that “Satan’s legions” have “perverted” the First Amendment to the detriment of Christians, and says that Christians face persecution today. “If you are a God-fearing Christian, then powerful forces in our culture say YOU are the dangerous radical that needs to be censored, chastised and even punished!” Sekulow wrote in 2009. “It is as if ‘open season’ has been declared in the courts on Christians.”

The group has a strong international focus, representing clients not only in the U.S. but also in “international tribunals around the globe.” It has affiliates in France, Israel, Kenya, Pakistan, Russia, South Korea and Zimbabwe, where a new constitution is being drafted. The ACLJ is involved in that drafting and has allied itself with the human rights-violating Mugabe regime. It has also worked in Kenya to criminalize gay sex. Political Research Associates, a liberal group that analyzes the far right, has described it as “the key organization involved in ensuring African constitutions and laws criminalize homosexuality.”

The ACLJ also dabbles in other issues. According to its website, it opposes reproductive rights and “ObamaCare”; supports Arizona’s draconian anti-immigrant S.B. 1070 law (most of which has been struck down by the Supreme Court) and government promotion of religion in schools and elsewhere; and campaigns against Islamic Shariah law and the Park51 Islamic center in New York City. Indeed, it is so anti-Muslim that, despite its much-ballyhooed support for the “freedom of religion,” it insists that Muslims cannot be loyal Americans.

Catholic Family & Human Rghts Institute

President: Austin Ruse

Headquarters: New York, N.Y., and Washington, D.C.

The Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute (C-FAM) was formed in 1997 to monitor and influence social policy debates at the United Nations and other international institutions. According to Political Research Associates, which has extensively researched such organizations, it was founded by principals of the virulently anti-abortion and anti-gay Human Life International (HLI), a group formed in 1981 that bills itself as “the largest international pro-life organization in the world.”

C-FAM’s current president is Austin Ruse, who has been a promoter of working with conservative Muslims against gay rights since at least 1999. In 2005, he predicted that although “our enemies” will call it an “un-holy alliance,” “victory will come” in the battle over gay rights in venues like the UN from this “potent alliance between Catholic and Muslim countries.” Its board is composed of three conservative activists: Robert Royal of the Catholic Faith and Reason Institute, Monsignor Anthony Frontiero of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, and John O’Sullivan of Radio Free Europe. (O’Sullivan formerly was an editor at the conservative National Review, where he promoted the work of immigrant-basher Peter Brimelow, known for his racist VDARE website, and edited Brimelow’s nativist book, Alien Nation.) One of C-FAM’s lawyers, Terrence McKeegan, is advising the anti-LGBT coalition working to keep gay sex a serious crime in Belize. McKeegan also is listed by specialguests.com, a television and radio booking service, as available to describe the “twisted details” of the “inside story” of the battle in Belize, where pro-LGBT groups are described as “bullying” the Central American country.

A former C-FAM staffer, Pierro Tozzi, is now with the Alliance Defending Freedom (see above) and works with that group advising the anti-gay coalition in Belize. Tozzi is still listed on C-FAM’s website, however, because he continues to blog for the group. In one such post, attacking the so-called Yogyakarta Principles that were drafted to help make international law more protective of LGBT rights, Tozzi includes same-sex attraction on a list of societal ills along with “suicide, contraception, abortion and euthanasia.” All of those ills, Tozzi says, “would mean the end of the human species,” unlike laws against same-sex marriage, which he argues are designed “to promote the future flourishing of the human species.”

C-FAM, like the Alliance Defending Freedom, repeatedly refers to the “homosexual agenda” and claims that international law is advancing a “radical social agenda.” “Homosexual groups are becoming more active at the UN as annually they pressure the UN Human Rights Commission to include homosexuality in the interpretation and implementation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” the group said in a 2006 post on its website. “This would result in hate crime charges being brought against Christians and others who oppose the homosexual agenda.” Another website post describes anti-gay activist Scott Lively — who has accused gay men of orchestrating the Nazi Holocaust and has worked in Uganda to promote the infamous “kill the gays” bill there — as merely advocating “for remedies focused on rehabilitation, not punishment.”

At the 2012 edition of the Conservative Political Action Conference, C-FAM president Ruse decried a global study of violence against LGBT people that was approved by a UN body and condemned arbitrary executions. Ruse said the report was essentially a devious ploy. “Everyone knows the strategy has little to do with protecting homosexuals from execution but rather with introducing a new term that can then be turned into an elaborate justification for a new international norm,” he asserted. Elsewhere, Ruse claimed more countries would support efforts to protect LGBT people from violence around the world, “except that they know the inherent dishonesty in the effort and they know where such efforts are really going.”

Family Watch International

President: Sharon Slater

Location: Gilbert, Ariz.

Family Watch International (FWI), “Promoting Family Based Solutions to World Problems,” was founded in 1999 by hard-line Mormon activist Sharon Slater, who still leads it today. The group has managed to acquire UN consultative status, but only under its original name of Global Helping to Advance Women and Children. Slater and her group have been heavily involved in anti-abortion work at the UN and in Africa, but she has also publicly called on African leaders to resist what she describes as UN efforts to promote homosexuality. In 2009 and 2010, FWI worked to kill language in the UNAIDS program that Slater claimed would result in the “repeal [of] laws against adultery, fornication, oral sex and sodomy.”

In January 2011, FWI hosted a conference on how to battle UN initiatives that was attended by 26 UN staffers from 23 countries. Later that year, Slater keynoted a Nigerian Bar Association conference where she reportedly called on attendees to resist the UN’s attempts to decriminalize homosexuality. (Gay sex is punishable by up to 14 years in prison in that country and, in northern, heavily Muslim areas, gay people are sometimes stoned to death.) She told her audience they would lose their religious and parental rights if they supported what she called the “fictitious sexual rights” of LGBT people. Slater and her organization also strongly support so-called “ex-gay” therapy that purports to be able to “cure” gay people of their attractions; she spoke at the 2012 conference of the National Association for Research & Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH), one of the best known groups pushing such therapy. FWI’s website promotes NARTH’s “ex-gay” materials.

Ugandan pastor Martin Ssempa, who has a master’s counseling degree from a U.S. Bible college, was listed as an FWI volunteer in Uganda until 2009. Then, a wave of bad press about that country’s “kill the gays” bill resulted in several U.S. groups distancing themselves from Ssempa, who had vigorously promoted the death penalty for LGBT people and who also was convicted in 2009 of conspiring to destroy a rival Ugandan pastor’s reputation by falsely accusing him of homosexual acts.

In an interview with Warren Throckmorton — an evangelical Christian and Bible college professor who has criticized the anti-gay rhetoric of many religious groups — Slater said FWI opposed the repeal of anti-sodomy laws, “not because we want them [gay people] in jail, but because the repeal of these laws creates a climate where other special rights are demanded.” She agreed the issue was “complicated” and conceded that criminalization “may seem like a restriction in personal liberty” but ultimately concluded that “nations have the right to regulate sexuality.”

United Families International

Location: Gilbert, Ariz.

President: Carol Soelberg

United Families International (UFI), founded in 1978, is related to Family Watch International (FWI), sharing a hometown and also Sharon Slater, the current FWI leader who was president of UFI from 2001 to 2006. Like FWI also, UFI has Mormon ties and consultative status at the UN, where it “works to educate UN ambassadors and delegates on root policies affecting the family.” It claims to have been “successful in affecting the outcome of numerous UN conference documents and in promoting respect for the family, marriage, life, religion, parents and national sovereignty.” The group is stridently anti-abortion and anti-gay.

In the early 2000s, UFI was already running a website, defendmarriage.org, whose goal was to stop “the effort by homosexual activists and their liberal allies to force the legalization of same sex marriage [which is] the most serious new threat to traditional marriage and the family.” In 2003, it filed an amicus brief supporting the continued criminalization of sodomy in the Lawrence v. Texas case. As recently as this March, UFI said in a web posting that the UN Commission on the Status of Women, which was discussing various LGBT issues at the time, “has lost its direction and is simply focusing on forcing abortion and unrestricted homosexual sodomy on the third world.” Also at the UN, UFI has allied closely with Muslim anti-gay forces.

UFI currently distributes a 42-page booklet, Sexual Orientation, that is rife with anti-gay pseudo-science and distorts legitimate research on sexuality in order to portray homosexuality as dangerous and deranged. The publication claims, for instance, that LGBT people suffer high rates of mental illness and problems as a result of their same-sex attraction, not because of discrimination and hatred directed at them. It goes further, alleging that pedophilia is widespread among gay people (an allegation refuted by relevant scientific groups) and claiming against the vast bulk of the evidence that gay people can be “cured” of their sexuality. On its site, UFI says, “Discrimination against homosexuality is not faulty or incorrect, but rather based on a notable distinction necessary for the perpetuation of a healthy society.”

World Congress of Families

President: Allan C. Carlson

Headquarters: Rockford, Ill.

The World Congress of Families (WCF) was founded in 1997 by Allan Carlson as a project of The Howard Center for Family, Religion & Society, which has consultative status at the UN. Carlson, a longtime conservative activist who was appointed in 1988 by President Ronald Reagan to the National Commission on Children, blames feminism and socialism for what he sees as the “decline” of the family. A scholarly book, Globalizing Family Values, described his WCF project as “the first sustained attempt by [Christian Right groups in] the UN to construct a permanent, global, interfaith institution.”

The WCF functions as a hub where American religious-right activists are able to work easily across denominational lines. From the very beginning, the group included Jewish and Muslim anti-gay activists in addition to Christian ones.

The WCF is best known for its biannual world conferences, where speakers and sponsors have comprised a “Who’s Who” of the American religious right, including representatives of particularly hard-line groups like the American Family Association, Americans for Truth About Homosexuality, Concerned Women for America and the Family Research Council. In the 2012 conference in Madrid, Spain, WCF’s co-conveners were the Alliance Defending Freedom (see above), the Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute (above), and Focus on the Family. In 2010, Sharon Slater of Family Watch International (above) boasted from the podium about her group’s alleged role in helping to stop the UN from signing on to HIV guidelines that included a call for ending the criminalization of gay sex.

Slater was merely echoing rhetoric common at the conferences, where many speakers have supported such criminalization. And the WCF itself has weighed in, too. A speech on its website calls for rolling back decriminalization measures and describes other gay rights laws as “pernicious and ominous developments.” In an
April 2009 newsletter, the WCF lauded the government of Uganda’s efforts to pass its infamous “kill the gays” bill, saying that the country’s “stand against homosexuality has been condemned by international groups seeking to advance the homosexual agenda” but that Uganda “will not bow to foreign pressure.” The newsletter linked to a WCF press release saying that the group was “dismayed” by the U.S. decision to support UN decriminalization efforts that it described as “not needed.”

The WCF doesn’t limit itself to opposing decriminalization. This year, it fired off a “leadership letter” protesting the support that officials at the U.S. embassy in the Czech Republic gave to an LGBT pride parade in Prague. “We cannot imagine a worse form of cultural imperialism,” the letter said, “than Washington trying to force approval of the ‘gay’ agenda on societies with traditional values.”

These profiles rely heavily on materials from People for the American Way’s Right Wing Watch and Political Research Associates of Somerville, Mass.