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POPULATION: ‘Natural Family’ Definition Rankles Rights Activists

Diego Cevallos

MEXICO CITY, Apr 1 2004 (IPS) - Conservative groups calling for a return to the "natural family" gathered in Mexico to shower praise upon each other and to pledge to work harder in fighting homosexuality, divorce and "sexual wantonness" – positions that set more than a few human rights activists’ teeth on edge.

The time has come to reinforce "the manliness of husbands", to fight divorce for all reasons, "even if domestic violence is involved", and to reinstate "respectability and good marriages", were just some of the proposals heard at the World Congress of Families III this week in Mexico City.

The meeting, which drew 2,000 people from more than 50 countries, was organised by conservative groups and won a nod from the Vatican, which sent Cardinal Alfonso López Trujillo, president of the Pontifical Council for the Family.

"Only in the family, based on matrimony, is there hope for the greatness, dignity and future of humanity," said Trujillo.

The meeting promoted a unilateral view of the family that could "create fertile ground for intolerance of diversity in a world of rapid changes," Gabriela Delgado, researcher at the Autonomous National University of Mexico (UNAM), told IPS.

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) reports that family structures have undergone swift transformations in recent years, and will only accelerate in the near future.

Today, nearly half the world population is under 25, and 20 percent is 10 to 19 years old, a group that soon will be producing children, says UNFPA.

The U.N. agency also states that in developing countries there are 82 million girls ages 10 to 17 who will be married before they reach their 18th birthdays.

All of the elements that lead to family dysfunction are coming together, "such as unemployment, incompatibility of the couple, changing roles, lack of economic resources and irresponsible unions," said Ruben Kaztman, coordinator of the Project Latin American Urbanisation in the Late 290th Century, an invited speaker at the Mexico meet.

The participants took part in panel discussions with titles like: "Sexual Identity in Marriage", "To the Rescue of the Virtue of Modesty", and "Homosexuality: A New Attack on Marriage".

The common emphasis was that "the only natural family" is made up of a man, a woman and their children.

"These people have gone too far," José María Covarrubias, leader of the Mexican organisation Círculo Gay, told IPS. "Their positions ignore history and the signed international treaties that support sexual diversity and the commitments to respect it."

Documents distributed during the conference stated that marriage is not the result of culture, history or the dictates of power, but rather is part of human nature itself, and allows human beings to develop in love and achieve fulfilment.

By promoting the natural family, "at the macro level many problems could be resolved that originate in dysfunctional families and in education based on individualism," said Enrique Gómez Serrano, head of international affairs for the congress.

Carlos Echarri, an expert from the Colegio de Mexico, said that as a fundamental social unit, the family can indeed be an engine of change, but he rejected outright the idea that there is only one type of natural family, "because that isn’t realistic."

Single parent households, combined families, polygamous families, extended families and same-sex unions are just some of the examples of the diversity existing in today’s world – but which cardinal Trujillo would refer to as anything but "natural families".

According to Mario Arteago, president of the Mexico Pride committee, which campaigns for homosexual rights, the World Congress of Families showed its manipulative and intolerant attitude towards diversity.

"That structure of dad, mom, son, daughter, dog and cat no longer reflects the reality of the bulk of the population," he said.

The organisers of the congress were the non-governmental Family Network of Mexico and the U.S.-based Howard Centre for Family, Religion and Society, and the World Family Policy Centre.

The first World Congress of Families took place in Prague in 1997, and the second in Geneva in 1999.

In its closing sessions, the World Congress on Families III resolved to ask U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan to reject any initiative that seeks to consecrate special rights for homosexuals, and stressed that marriage is the "only moral and ethical" medium for forming a family.

According to Wade F. Horn, assistant secretary for children and families, of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, a stable family is very important, because, he said, it is well known that there is no culture in the world that can develop well when this basic social unit does not function.

As for homosexuality, same-sex marriages and "sexual wantonness", the congress participants pledged to fight what they see as contradictions of nature and the family unit.

Gary Becker, 1992 winner of the Nobel Prize in economics, proposed establishing marital contracts with catches that would limit the causes of divorce, as well as establishing schemes that would exempt women from having to work during the first five years of their children’s lives.

Meanwhile, cardinal López maintained that divorce is always unacceptable, even in situations in which domestic violence is a factor.

Lorenzo Servitje, president of the Mexican industrial group Bimbo, called for "reversing the moral deterioration" that exists in society in order to reinstate "respectability and good marriages," and Marcos Witt, a U.S. Christian leader, said what is needed is to reinforce the "manliness" of husbands.

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