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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — An international conservative group that opposes homosexuality is planning its first worldwide conference in the U.S. next year — a four-day gathering in Utah, which has become a focal point in the gay marriage movement.
The Rockford, Illinois-based World Congress of Families has about 40 partner organizations, including the Focus on the Family and Concerned Women for America. The group brings together people of different religions and ethnicities to promote the "natural human family," which its website says consists of a man and woman raising children with love and discipline.
The organization had to cancel this year's international conference in Moscow due to turmoil related to Russia's annexation of Crimea from Ukraine.
It chose Salt Lake City for its October 2015 gathering over St. Louis and Atlanta because it is an international city with experience hosting the Olympics, said Larry Jacobs, the group's managing director. The conference is expected to draw about 3,000 people
The Sutherland Institute, a public policy think tank in Utah that advocates for conservative values, put in the bid and is leading the event planning, Jacobs said. The World Congress of Families also will hold a smaller, regional conference in Salt Lake City this fall.
Its previous events have been in Madrid, Amsterdam, Warsaw, Poland, Mexico City, Geneva, Sydney and Prague.
Gay rights activists have won 18 cases in federal and state courts across the country since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act last summer.
Utah became one of the focal points for the same-sex marriage movement after a federal judge threw out its ban in December. An appeals court recently upheld that ruling, and the state plans to appeal.
To say the World Congress of Families chose North America because of the momentum of the gay marriage movement would be oversimplified, Jacobs said. He did recognize that the "natural family" is under attack in the continent.
"Same-sex marriage is just the most recent issue that's come out of the sexual revolution and the radical sexual left, which would like to focus on individual sexual pleasure as the ultimate human goal," Jacobs said.
The World Congress of Families opposes homosexuality and abortion, and is on the Southern Poverty Law Center's list of hate groups for its anti-LGBT views.
The Human Rights Campaign, which supports gay rights and gay marriage, is an outspoken critic of the organization. Ty Cobb, the campaign's director of global engagement, said the World Congress of Families is a network of extremist groups that has been working to promote anti-LGBT rhetoric and legislation abroad, including in Russia and several African countries.
Cobb called Salt Lake City a strange choice for the worldwide conference.
"Whatever the World Congress of Families may believe in their head about the values of people of Salt Lake City, they are wrong," Cobb said. "The values of the people of Salt Lake City are ones that promote inclusivity."
The World Congress of Families doesn't partner with religions, but communications director Don Feder said there are certainly members of the Utah-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints among its devotees.
The Salt Lake City event's theme likely will be religious liberty, Feder said.
"We've always believed faith is one of the underpinnings of the natural family," he said.
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