An Introductory Report: A Festival of Verbal and Logical Hijinks

Sydney, Australia – May 2013

The 2013 World Congress of Families (WCF) kicked off in Sydney a few hours ago to little effect, even among its own. Hours after the opening ceremony welcomed attendees, neither the website, the Twitter feed nor the Facebook page mentioned great speeches, rousing applause or magnificent crowds. In fact, each still had the conference as starting in the future and was holding out hope for more registrants, with the long-extended early bird price open to every bird. Opening ceremonies are rarely well-attended, especially for conferences that draw as many speakers at attendees, but there is no indication that the audience’s enthusiasm was any less anemic than its numbers may have been.

That is not to say that the WCF has not already delivered a little drama. In February a press release berated the Honorable Duncan Smith, MP, UK Secretary of State, for his recent vote in favor of same-sex marriage and withdrew his invitation to deliver a keynote speech at the Sydney event. Apparently, Mr. Smith did not calculate the sensibilities of the WCF organizing team when considering his vote—or else other variables edged this invitation off his social calendar.

This ostensibly one-sided snit before the conference has only served to whet the curiosity of WCF-watchers from the sidelines, and there are a few. Australian columnist Phil Scott, writing for Gay News Network, has provided the best description so far of the organizers: “This organisation hails from Rockford, Illinois, courtesy of the Howard Centre for Family, Religion and Junk Mail. They believe in the ‘natural family’ (heterosexual variety) and promote reparation therapy for homosexuals. Reparation comes from the verb ‘to repair.’ Did you guys know you were broken? Funny, neither did I. Guess it depends on your perspective.”

Similar verbal and logical hijinks are sure to follow during the conference proper. The WCF website promises that presenters will be sharing “data and reasoned arguments for strengthening the natural family”—an indication that they will not be interrogating the exclusive nature of this “natural family.” This term could use some clarification, as it rests on the shaky basis of a definition crafted at WCF 1998, one that contained suspect phrases like “overwhelmingly self-evident.” Still, in 2013 the “ambitious and urgent” hope is that delegates, if not their guiding theories, will be suitably invigorated so that they can return home to “spread the news” and “become catalysts for change—at work, at home and in their affiliated organisations. This is how we measure success!”

This definition of the event’s success is supported by Mary Louise Fowler. Mrs. Fowler, chair of the WCF organizing committee and national vice president of the Australian Family Association, says there need to be “conversations around tables” that create “tremendous buzz and atmosphere.” Such conversations will presumably be provoked by the more than 100 speakers billed as “leaders from academia, business, law, politics, religion, media, health, education, entertainment, and activists.”

Whether WCF Sydney 2013 achieves its aim of “shifting the debate in key areas to strengthen the natural family worldwide” will only be known in the months and years ahead, but early signs have not looked good.

The first harbinger came in the form of cheaper early bird registration rates extended to everyone right up the day of the conference—an open-armed gesture that may verge on over-eagerness. Even when online registration closed, recalcitrant mums and pops were told to “bring your registration form and payment to the registration desk at the conference.” The second note of desperation is struck by the welcome message on the Congress homepage.

“The World Congress of Families 7 Sydney is almost upon us and as you COUNT DOWN the days to the Congress, the Organising Committee is COUNTING UP the participants—we need your help….[We] would like to see double the number of delegates registered … to know that this Congress is on track.”

To sweeten the all-caps entreaties, WCF’s social media outlets flogged tickets to movie premieres, special discounts for registered delegates and even a five-day hosted farm visit to boost ticket sales—all seemingly to no avail.

Going back to April, the WCF tweetstream was also keen to drum up registrations.