NEW YORK — A U.S.-based conservative group that supports Russia's efforts to curtail gay rights and abortion is suspending its plans for an international conference in Moscow this September because of the turmoil related to Russia's annexation of Crimea from Ukraine.
The World Congress of Families, headquartered in Rockford, Ill., said Tuesday the uncertain political situation — including sanctions imposed on Russia by the U.S. and some European countries — "has raised questions about travel, logistics and other matters" essential to planning for the conference.
The suspension "is not meant to reflect negatively on the Russian people, churches or individuals who have taken a leadership role in the fight to preserve life, marriage, and the natural family at home and as part of the international pro-family movement," said a statement from the congress.
Don Feder, a spokesman for the group, said it had not been determined whether the upcoming conference — World Congress of Families VIII — would be held at a different location or rescheduled for Moscow at a later date.
"It's a very delicate situation," he said.
One of the conservative U.S. groups that had planned to attend the conference — Concerned Women for America — announced two weeks ago that it would not participate because of the events in Ukraine.
Well before Russia's intervention in Crimea, the planned conference in Moscow had come under attack from gay-rights activists who objected to the support by some U.S. conservatives for Russia's crackdown on gay-rights activism. A law enacted last year, banning "gay propaganda" that might be accessible to minors, is widely seen as a deterrent to public expressions of gay-rights sentiment
However, the World Congress of Families stressed in its statement Friday that its suspension of the conference was not related to Russia's stance on social issues.
"We are proud of the accomplishments of our Russian partners, and applaud the moves of the Russian people, through their elected representatives, to protect life, the family and the innocence of children," the congress said. "At a time when Western governments are moving backward to a pagan worldview, Russia has taken a leadership role."
Similar sentiments were expressed last week by the Rev. Franklin Graham, son of evangelist Billy Graham, who wrote a column supporting Russian President Vladimir Putin's stance on gays.
"Isn't it sad ... that America's own morality has fallen so far that on this issue — protecting children from any homosexual agenda or propaganda — Russia's standard is higher than our own?" Graham wrote. "In my opinion, Putin is right on these issues."