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Mormon apostle M. Russell Ballard will be a keynote speaker at next month's meeting of the World Congress of Families, an international organization billing itself as "the largest gathering of pro-family advocates in the world," the group announced Tuesday.

The World Congress of Families IX, which will be staged in Salt Lake City from Oct. 27 to 30, promotes what it calls "the natural family — meaning a man and a woman rearing children — and believes the LDS Church's 1995 document "The Family: A Proclamation to the World" supports that view.

Ballard defended the Utah-based faith's proclamation in 2005, saying, "It was then and is now a clarion call to protect and strengthen families and a stern warning in a world where declining values and misplaced priorities threaten to destroy society by undermining [the family which is] ... the basic unit of society, of the economy, of our culture, and of our government."

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints "has long been a strong ally to the World Congress of Families," Janice Shaw Crouse, a member of the board of directors of WCF and executive director of the World Congress of Families IX, said in a news release, "and it is an honor to have one of its senior apostles speak at our conference — particularly someone whose lifelong commitment and leadership have been to preserve and strengthen the family unit."

The Southern Poverty Law Center, however, has declared the World Congress to be a "hate group" for fostering homophobia under the guise of protecting families.

"Many of those who claim the designation of pro-family are actually not," Mark Lawrence, who heads the group Restore Our Humanity, said in May. "Many of them claim that families must meet a very narrow and restrictive definition."

Local gay and allied groups will host their own Inclusive Families Conference, scheduled for Oct. 23-24, at the University of Utah.

WCF officials balk at the hate-group allegation, saying they are "not 'anti' anything." Members, they say, are simply people of faith who celebrate the natural family and focus on how to make families stronger.

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