IOF is the new name of the Illinois-based Howard Center for Family, Religion and Society, which is the parent organization of WCF. The name and mission of the Howard Center have been re-tooled for an international arena, though WCF, which will remain a project of the IOF, according to Brown’s announcement, has always been extremely active internationally. Its world conferences serve as a key nexus for religious right leaders and activists and the formulation of policies that are detrimental to LGBT people and reproductive health, and they provide a platform for anti-LGBT rhetoric and conspiracy theories
The IOF, which was ironically announced on Dec. 10, International Human Rights Day, has been in the works for a while.
In August of this year, the Howard Center sent out a letter to supporters signed by President Emeritus Allan Carlson, in which he stated that the Center’s board of trustees resolved to “sharpen the focus” of the organization “on international family questions” which reflect the reality “that key family policy battles now occur more frequently at the transnational level in bodies such as the U.N., the Organization of American States, and the European Union.” To that end, the board of directors of the Center resolved to change the organization’s name to IOF.
The name of the Center’s policy journal is also changing from The Family in America: A Journal of Public Policy to The Natural Family: An International Journal of Research and Policy, but senior editing staff remains the same.
In keeping with the mission of the Howard Center and WCF to dictate the so-called “natural family” –– that marriage is only for one man and one woman –– as the only correct way to be a family, IOF’s first order of business was to release the “Cape Town Declaration” at a WCF regional conference at the Westin Hotel in Cape Town, South Africa.
The declaration purports to affirm marriage as only between a man and a woman, and “the patrimony of all mankind” to secure for children the “birthright of all men: to know the faithful love of the man and woman whose union gave them life.” The declaration goes on to assert that a “thriving culture will therefore serve marriage — and all society —by promoting purity outside it and fidelity within.” These “thriving cultures” will also discourage pornography, adultery and divorce, and will resist attempts to “redefine marriage” to include “same-sex or group bonds, or sexually open or temporary ones.”
The declaration also states that those who support it will refuse to deal with corporations that don’t agree with their views and that they will resist the “rising cultural imperialism of Western powers whose governments seek nothing less than the ideological colonization of the family” and that they “shall not falter or flag until the truth about marriage is embraced in our laws and honored in our lands.”
The use of the terminology of the so-called “natural family” is being used worldwide to promote new laws that justify the criminalization of LGBT people and reproductive health initiatives and to dismantle all “nontraditional” families, which will have repercussions for women as well as LGBT people. The terminology is not just semantics. Words matter in international policy formation through venues like the U.N., and if the WCF/IOF’s definition of “natural family” drives legislative policy in countries around the world, millions of people who do not fit the rigid definition of the term stand to be marginalized or, in other cases, imprisoned.
The Cape Town Declaration has garnered signatures from prominent anti-LGBT and anti-choice activists worldwide, including WCF’s Theresa Okafor, based in Nigeria. She supported a law in 2014 that made it illegal for same-sex couples to show affection in public or to live together. The bill also criminalizes participation in LGBT groups; doing so is now punishable by ten years in prison.
Another signatory is Andrea Minichiello Williams of the UK’s Christian Concern Group, who has urged those who oppose LGBT equality to falsely link homosexuality to pedophilia. Another is Russian politician Victor Zubarev, a member of Putin’s United Russia Party, which implemented anti-LGBT laws in Russia in 2012.
Still others include Richard Viguerie, a longtime conservative activist and operative and major funder of conservative causes in the U.S.; the anti-LGBT and anti-Muslim Babette Francis of the Endeavour Forum in Australia who also peddles the myth of a link between breast cancer and abortion; Josiah Trenham of St. Andrew Orthodox Church in California, who linked homosexuality to predatory and promiscuous behavior at the Tbilisi WCF gathering; Austin Ruse, director of the anti-LGBT hate group C-Fam; and Ryan Anderson of the Heritage Foundation, who supports so-called “ex-gay therapy,” the harmful pseudoscientific practice that attempts to change same-sex orientation to heterosexuality.
It should be no surprise that Brown is involved in a mission like the IOFs. He has been heavily involved in international anti-LGBT work, traveling overseas for the past few years, showing up in France in support of the massive anti-LGBT demonstrations against marriage equality there in 2013, and Russia, where he addressed a committee of the Duma in support of Russian laws banning adoption of children by same-sex parents. He has also attended several WCF gatherings around the world, and became president of that organization this past May.
Given Brown’s long tenure as an anti-LGBT organizer and the anti-LGBT rhetoric the Howard Center and WCF have engaged in over the years, expect much more of the same from the IOF, with even more attempts to marginalize and potentially criminalize LGBT people and women through the weaponization of laws and policies, all cloaked in the benign-sounding terminology of “the natural family.”