TOPEKA (AP) — Gay rights advocates are criticizing Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback for speaking at a Utah conference sponsored by an organization that has been described as a hate group for its stance on same-sex marriage.

 

Brownback participated in a panel Wednesday at the World Congress of Families conference in Salt Lake City, according to the event's agenda. The theme of the panel was "Reversing the Crisis of the American Family," the Topeka Capital-Journal reported.

Ty Cobb, a leader with the Human Rights Campaign, a national gay rights organization, said in a statement that it was "astonishing" to him that Brownback "would allow himself to be mentioned in the same sentence as the World Congress of Families — let alone be in the same room with them."

The World Congress of Families supports what it calls the "natural family," which the group says refers to the lifelong marriage of a man and woman.

In 2014, the Southern Poverty Law Center called WCF an anti-LGBT hate group, pointing to a letter the organization signed that expressed support for a Russian law that criminalizes distributing material to children that supports nontraditional sexual relationships.

"Hate is not an American value, and Governor Brownback's participation in this summit is shameful," Cobb said.

Brownback spokeswoman Eileen Hawley said the governor, a Republican who opposes gay marriage, was invited to the event.

"The Governor was invited to discuss strategies to lift individuals out of poverty including fostering family structure, superior education, and the dignity of work, as ways to put people on a path to a better life," Hawley said in an emailed statement.

The SPLC, founded in 1971 in the wake of the civil-rights movement to advocate on behalf of the disenfranchised, monitors a wide variety of organizations throughout the U.S. that it labels as "hate groups" for beliefs or practices that the SPLC says "attack or malign an entire class of people" regardless of whether the group advocates for or engages in violence or other criminal activity.

The WCF says on its website that it tries to engage opposing groups, such as the HRC and SPLC, in dialogue. The WCF said opposing groups seem to imply it hates the LGBT community but that "nothing could be further from the truth."

"As thoughtful adults, individuals are free to make their own personal lifestyle choices. WCF advocates for that freedom, just as it does for the rights of individuals to worship how they choose and to participate in government and civil discourse — including the defense of the natural family," according to the website.

Gay and lesbian couples began getting married in Kansas in November 2014 after a court ruling, and the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in June secured the right nationwide.


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