Over the next two weeks, Salt Lake City will host three separate conferences addressing families in society. How these respective conferences address their work and engage with Utah's public square may represent one of the biggest challenges to Utah's bridge-building culture since the passage of Utah's historic compromise on expanding LGBT rights in housing and the workplace while protecting religious liberty.
Among many topics that will be on the table, all three conferences will explore how the institution of the family is affected as same-sex marriage is legally recognized and as societal consciousness is raised about the rights of LGBT citizens.
We believe that Salt Lake is an excellent location for these conversations. Utah has garnered national recognition for its ability to have productive civil dialogue around these sensitive and important issues.
The Utah Compromise passed earlier this year by a bipartisan majority in the Utah Legislature provided a framework that other states have looked to for expanding LGBT rights while also securing important religious freedoms. Diverse interests and lawmakers were able to broker that framework in part because they resisted the temptation to demonize those holding contrary views.
The three-day Family & Faith LGBT Power Summit begins today. It intends to “build support for LGBTQ people and our families by launching transformational public education programs.” This conference will help organize and instruct advocates for the rights of the LGBT community.
The Inclusive Families Conference convenes Oct. 23-24 to celebrate what it calls "the rich diversity of families, especially 'non-traditional families.'" This conference will address the increasingly wide range of family structures that now exist beyond the intact biological nuclear family.
The World Congress of Families (WCF) has been around since 1995 and has scheduled its first U.S. based conference in Salt Lake City on Oct. 27-30. The WCF has advocated for the traditional family around the world and operates as a clearinghouse for a broad spectrum of family scholars and advocates, hailing from religious, academic and non-governmental organizations.
Having these three conferences occur in Salt Lake City within days of each other, provides an opportunity to see who will win the day — the bridge-builders or the bridge-burners. Unfortunately, some of the pre-conference rhetoric has shown the potential for these conferences to increase the divide on these issues. In some cases labels and aspersions have supplanted argument and discourse.
Are there sharp differences of opinion represented by these different groups? Absolutely. But the stinging accusation of hate hurled against the World Congress of Families seems to us a most unfortunate turn.
As best as we understand it, the accusation that the WCF itself promotes hate against LGBT persons feels like the guilty-by-association tactics used to demonize individuals in the McCarthy era. The organizers of this year's World Congress of Families sought to open a public dialogue at its conference with those national organizations who have labeled it a hate group. How disappointing for those who value reason, argument and civil dialogue that the invitation was rebuffed.
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Hopefully, however, the recent past need not serve as prologue for the next few weeks. We believe that this unique collection of conferences can yet provide an opportunity to build bridges that could benefit families of all shapes and sizes. As disappointed as we are in the way outside groups have sought to bring the silencing tactics of demonization to our state, we applaud the efforts of those Utah bridge-builders who seek, with conscientious sincerity and idealism, to contribute to the difficult but crucial conversations our society is having about the family.
The next two weeks promise to be a time of opportunity for Utahns to once again demonstrate their ability to be bridge builders. We will watch closely how all participants and organizations maintain the civil and respectful dialogue we have come to value and expect.