Marriage, abortion and religious liberty are the top cultural topics to be addressed at this weekend's Values Voter Summit.
Conservative political issues will be a major part of the presentations, but the social-cultural issues "are what define us as an organization," said retired Lt. Gen. William G. Boykin of the Family Research Council (FRC), a main sponsor of the annual conference, which is now in its eighth year.
Many conservatives "care about smaller government and fiscal responsibility, as well as national defense," said Mr. Boykin. "But they are very passionate about the social issues, so that's why we have this conference: to bring them in and give them a platform to get caught up on where things are in the country and in their communities."
This year's biggest cultural topic is likely to be religious liberty, he said, while "very warm welcomes" are expected for Dr. Ben Carson, a retired neurosurgeon and columnist for The Washington Times, and media maven Glenn Beck.
On Thursday, Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Republican; his father, the Rev. Rafael Cruz; and Sen. Rand Paul, Kentucky Republican; and his wife, Kelley, held separate, closed-door meetings with about 300 social conservatives.
FRC President Tony Perkins; Gary L. Bauer, president of American Values; Ralph Reed, founder and chairman of the Faith and Freedom Coalition; and Bob Fischer, a South Dakota-based conservative organizer, helped arrange the meetings.
"We got to see their personal side up close with both," said Ken Blackwell, an FRC official who attended the meetings. "There was a great exchange of their view of the role of government, their view on the threat to religious liberty, their concerns and plans for moving us away from a government-controlled economy into one where the free market flows.
"Both of them have set a pretty high bar," Mr. Blackwell said. "These guys are making the environment much more competitive," he said, likening it to "a sort of free-market competition for the heart and soul of the party and of the conservative movement."
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee; Live Action President Lila Rose; Liberty Counsel Chairman Mat Staver; Heritage Foundation President Jim DeMint; E.W. Jackson, who is running for lieutenant governor of Virginia; and Star Parker, founder of the Center for Urban Renewal and Education, are among the expected speakers.
Sponsors include FRC Action, American Family Association Action, American Values, Heritage Foundation and Liberty Counsel Action. The Washington Times is a media co-sponsor.
On Saturday evening, the FRC will honor Edwin Feulner, founder and former president of the Heritage Foundation, with its 2013 Vision and Leadership Award.
Heritage Foundation scholar Ryan T. Anderson is speaking three times on marriage-related issues, including a session called "What is Marriage ... Really?" It's aimed at young adults and students.
The goal is to help the next generation see "what's at stake" if marriage is redefined, said Mr. Anderson. Other discussions will look at how "social justice" applies to children, and how the health and wealth of a nation are tied to its marriage and family culture.
Over the years, the Values Voter Summit has had its detractors, including left-leaning evangelicals and gay-rights groups and their allies — the latter group last year asked conservative lawmakers to shun the confab and its "demonizing lies."
This year, leaders of a group called Not All Like That (NALT) Christians Project held a news conference Thursday to explain that people can be "fully Christian" and support lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights.
"Let me just tell you that the God I know in my life loves you and me beyond anything you can imagine. And don't listen to those people who tell you otherwise, because we're not all like that," retired Bishop Gene Robinson, the first openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church, said in a video on NALT's website.
NALT allies include Jay Bakker, the minister son of Jim Bakker and Tammy Faye Bakker Messner; Randy Roberts Potts, grandson of the late televangelist Oral Roberts; and Mel White, former ghostwriter for the Rev. Billy Graham, Christian Broadcasting Network Chairman Pat Robertson and the late Rev. Jerry Falwell.
• Staff writer Seth McLaughlin contributed to this article.
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