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Gov. Gary Herbert defended his decision to give a welcoming address to the World Congress of Families next week, even as critics reiterated their charges that the organization is a hate group targeting women and gay and lesbian people.

"I speak to a lot of different conferences and conventions that come to Utah as the governor, welcoming people to Utah. We're a welcoming state," Herbert said Thursday during his monthly KUED news conference. "We have a lot of people here in our community. They have very diverse points of views and ideas. We don't agree on everything. So it's appropriate for the governor to go to this organization and say, 'Welcome to the state of Utah. We hope you enjoy your stay here.' "

The Southern Poverty Law Center has classified the World Congress of Families as a hate group, alleging that its member organizations have pushed for policies across the globe that discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

"This is an organization that has argued for criminalizing [homosexuality] in other countries," said Heidi Beirich, of the SPLC. "It is an organization that has supported punishing legislation in other places relating to gay families, gay adoptions, all sorts of things having to do with gay rights."

Rev. Kapya Kaoma — a researcher with Political Research Associates, a group critical of WCF — said the group has been behind laws in Uganda and Nigeria that call for prison or even death for LGBT people. He said WCF will use Herbert's appearance as "validation of the demeaning of our fellow human beings."

"I think they came here partially because most of the developing countries are not willing to host them, so they found a place to host it," Kaoma said. "When it comes to human lives and human rights, we need to stand with the oppressed and not the oppressor."

Stan Swim, chairman of the WCF conference and interim president of the Utah-based Sutherland Institute, said the allegations leveled against the group are absurd.

"The accusation that this is a hate group is a pretty longstanding and tired one," Swim said. "I think that's unfortunate on their part. I don't think it serves anybody."

He said WCF is focused on two ideas — that every human life is valuable and marriage between a man and a woman is "the most sustainable and effective model to build society."

"We reject violence against people regardless of the cause, whether it's their sexual orientation, their skin color or their religious affiliation," Swim said. "It's obvious that there are some pretty fundamental disagreements with the LGBT lobby. … I'm not aware of anybody in the congress program that would elevate that to the level of the kind of acrimonious label they want to put on it."

Herbert said that people may not agree with everything said at the conference, but "we have to wait and see what they say."

"I'm not certain that everything that is being alleged is in fact truthful," Herbert said. "But again, they're welcome in our state, just like other people who have different points of view in other areas. We're not all the same. And we invite diversity and difference of opinions in Utah."

Twitter: @RobertGehrke