The battle for family continues this week in New York at the UN Commission on Population and Development.
As we write, the commission is going into the final hours. The commission draft document, as it stands is, packed with language – both good and bad -for families. The pro-family coalition, United Families International included, is busy giving information and support to delegations to make the “good” language prevail. This is one of the most intense negotiations we have seen in many years.
Because of the sensitivity of the information and the delegations involved, we can’t share much more than that at this point. But we thought you would enjoy reading Tom Christensen’s articleabout his early involvement with UFI and the outcome of a very important conference. It will give you some insights into what is occurring right now, today, at the UN.
President, United Families International
I first became acquainted with United Families International (“UFI”) in 1996 when its President, Susan Roylance, contacted me at home and asked for help in covering a UN conference, “Habitat II,” in Turkey. Roylance thought that I, as a county attorney, city official and family man, might be interested in a global conference addressing human settlement issues.
Distressed by the outcome of the UN Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, Roylance wanted to turn the tables at Habitat II, the final of a series of “mega-conferences” involving some 25,000 participants. She explained that UN agreements and action plans are the blueprint for social policies and programs implemented worldwide.
I initially declined the invitation to attend Habitat II. However, after reading Roylance’s book, The Traditional Family in Peril, I agreed to help her access UN proceedings as a “local government authority,” a new classification created especially for Habitat II. I put her request on the city council agenda. The city council adopted a resolution authorizing UFI to represent South Jordan City at Habitat II.
A few weeks later, Roylance called me from Habitat II “prep-com” meetings at UN headquarters in New York and described a stunning chain of events where she was allowed to address the main body the same as a national delegate. Amazingly, she was allowed to introduce specific language recognizing the value of traditional families in strengthening local communities. Such drafting and speaking privileges for a non-delegate were unprecedented.
Upon returning from New York, Roylance expressed concern that her work might unravel in Turkey where the lengthy draft UN document would undergo final review. She doubted she would be allowed a repeat performance but felt that an elected local official might have a chance. She asked if I would reconsider going. After reviewing the lengthy draft Habitat document, I decided to go.
Upon arriving in Istanbul, I checked into a cheap hotel miles from the conference center where some thirty other members of UFI were staying, including Richard G. Wilkins, a constitutional law professor from BYU, and the singing Goodman family accompanied by acclaimed composer, Kenneth Cope. While the others touched hearts and minds at the plenary session, media outlets, and the massive NGO forum, I attended local authority caucus meetings. When it came time to select individuals to represent the local authorities at the crucial working group committee, I volunteered and, as one of few local elected officials present, was appointed.
A consultant from Canada orchestrated the legislative agenda for the local authorities. He handed me a list of proposed amendments to the Habitat document. He seemed OK when I told him I had a few ideas of my own. I found my way to the large hall packed with delegates, sat at the local authorities table and waited alone. The proceedings started slowly. Finally, the group started its formal review of the draft document.
When the first item on the local authorities’ list came up, I took a deep breath and, with a trembling hand, pushed the button on the microphone. A red light on the microphone came on then off. I pushed it again with the same result. I got up and asked a page why I was not recognized to speak. A deputy chairperson paid me a visit and explained that local authorities are not permitted to propose amendments from the floor. That meant that all of our proposed amendments were out of order. The local authorities filed a protest.
After two days, the “traditional family” paragraph Roylance negotiated in New York came up for discussion. Without much thought, I pushed the button on the microphone. Again, the light went on then off. A few minutes later, a page delivered me a note from the chairman. The note said that I would be recognized to make a brief statement on the paragraph in the afternoon session. Grateful for preparation time and sensing (correctly) that this would be my only opportunity, I consulted with Professor Wilkins. He quickly penned on a scrap of paper:
Traditional forms of a family are those that have persisted over long periods of time, in particular cultures. They can, and do, include single-parent families, matriarchies, patriarchies, and multi-generational units involving grandparents, parents, children, and other relations.
Traditional family forms deserve not only the recognition of the United Nations, but the protections accorded by the Habitat II Agenda, because of their unique and irreplaceable role in transmitting cultural values, inculcating personal morality, and strengthening the interpersonal bonds that make civilization possible.
The reading of this simple statement blew the lid off the session. European delegates, the feminist/homosexual lobby, and the local authorities were visibly upset. Bella Abzug, powerful head of the Women’s Caucus, issued a sharp rebuttal from the “NGO” (non-governmental organization) table. The Holy See and Latin American nations countered. Speech after speech addressed the traditional family, pro and con. The nations soon divided into two camps: those who believed in the traditional family and those who didn’t. The debate over the definition, maintenance and protection of the human family continued to the final day of the conference.
Five days before the conference ended, the Arab delegations issued a statement that they would not accept Habitat II unless it recognized religious and cultural heritage, the family as the basic unit of society, that marriage consisted of a union between men and women, and that no nation had the obligation to provide abortion services. The next day, the G-77 (representing 139 African, Asian and Pacific Rim states) took a similar stand. That same day, the UK urged the conference to reject the pro-abortion “culture of death.”
At the conclusion of the conference, delegates worked through the night to hammer out compromise language in the main document on issues such as sovereignty, family, homosexuality and abortion. Our coalition stayed up with them, encouraging them when they emerged from closed meetings. Over the objections of the European Union and Canada, the final document went beyond the draft document in re-affirming the centrality of the family, rejecting language endorsing homosexual unions, and retreating from prior commitments to abortion.
Although the “Coalition for Sustainable Families” triumphed in Istanbul, I returned home deeply troubled. I realized that this war did not start and would not end in Istanbul but would continue on many fronts in the future.
During the ensuing decade, I had the privilege of working with a small band of dedicated volunteers and professionals from different organizations working as one unit at distant UN venues. Utilizing social science data and UN precedent, we braced sympathetic delegates against opposing unions, interest groups and UN officials. Sometimes the battles were over a single word, other times multiple pages. These battles rage every year throughout the world. If not for the sustained effort of this small coalition, I believe the UN policy war over the future of the family would be lost.
About the Author: Tom Christensen and his wife of 28 years, Dixy, reside in South Jordan, Utah where they are successfully raising fifteen children. Christensen, who served for five years as CEO of UFI, obtained for UFI critical ECOSOC accreditation and 501c3 public nonprofit status, lead UFI delegations and spoke at UN conferences in New York, Nairobi, the Hague, Lisbon and Geneva, and published several articles on family policy. Christensen was featured in the front page Deseret News series, “Utahns Making a Difference Abroad,” and received in Budapest the “Family and Peace Award” from the World Association of Non-Governmental Organizations.