World Congress of Families IX kicks off in Salt Lake City

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC 4 Utah) - What some consider the largest pro-family gathering in the world kicked off, Tuesday, drawing both praise and criticism. 
 
Like it or not, 3,000 people from 50 different countries and all walks of life are at The Grand America Hotel for The World Congress of Families IX conference.  They are celebrating and trying to preserve what they call 'the natural family.' 
 
According to event chairman, Stan Swim, the natural family is "a mother and a father married and devoted to kids."  The organization promotes that type of family as society's best bet for a promising future.
 
The thousands from around the globe in attendance have gathered to discuss observations they all seem to have made in their own countries. 
 
"No values, families breaking apart..." a woman from Tanzania said. 
 
"Most people don't even see marriage or family as something needed," another attendee said. 
 
The conference usually convenes every couple of years.  Utah's Sutherland Institute bid on the event in order to host in Salt Lake City this year. 
 
The event is organized into four themes -- each on a different day.
 
The first session kicked off by focusing on 'the value of life in all its stages and conditions,' specifically addressing abortion.
 
"It is today uncomfortable for us to see what we are, in fact, in America doing to the tune of 1 million American children every year," said John-Henry Westen, Co-Founder of LifeSiteNews, who spoke at Tuesday's conference. 
 
Other themes include overcoming hardship and the so-called war on religion.
 
Opposing groups -- like the local LGBTQ community and Latter-day Saint Democrats --are also weighing in.
 
"People feel so strongly about some of their religious beliefs that they think it's important that those religious beliefs be put into law... " said Rep. Brian King, a Democrat and member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  "The First Amendment celebrates the diversity -- not only tolerates -- but celebrates the diversity we have in this country of different religious beliefs," he explained. 
 
"The best thing I can say to anyone who has concerns about this event is just come be with us, come walk the halls..." Swim said.  "We want to be civil.  We want to be respectful with our dialogue with other people.  We think Utah sets a great model for that and we intend to be that kind of example here with the congress," he said. 
 
Events will continue running back-to-back over the next three days.  
 
Organizers say they also plan on announcing when and where the next World Congress of Families will take place on Friday. 

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