In the race for the Republican nomination for president, candidates are showing their conservative credentials by signing pledges. There is at least a pledge to not raise taxes, a promise to slash spending to balance the budget, and a pro-life pledge. But the most controversial is the "Marriage Vow Pledge" put forth by the Iowa-based Family Leader. Michele Bachmann, who is leading in the polls in Iowa, was the first to sign it (Rick Santorum is the only other candidate to sign). It was a decision that has resulted in her entanglement in controversies ranging from questions about race to sexuality.
"The Marriage Vow: A Declaration of Dependence upon MARRIAGE and FAMiLY" calls on candidates to support marriage both in policy and in their personal lives. Unlike other pledges this campaign season, the "Marriage Vow" avoids ambiguous platitudes. Instead, it lists detailed arguments and policy proposals (complete with references and footnotes). And it may be the specificity of the pledge that pulled Bachmann into so much controversy.
The pledge included a preamble that listed evidence that marriage in America is "in crisis." The very first claim made was that marriage among African-Americans was stronger under slavery than it is today.
"Slavery had a disastrous impact on African-American families, yet sadly a child born into slavery in 1860 was more likely to be raised by his mother and father in a two-parent household than was an African-American baby born after the election of the USA's first African-American President," the Marriage Vow said.
After the vow was criticized for implying that African-Americans were better off under slavery than they are today, the Family Leader removed the statement from the preamble. The group said the statement was being "misconstrued."
Julie Summa, a spokeswoman for the Family Leader, told Politico, "It was not meant to be racist or anything. It was just a fact that back in the days of slavery there was usually a husband and a wife."
Forbes' Osha Gray Davidson interviewed Lorraine Blackman of Indiana University, who is the lead author on the study the Marriage Vow cites as evidence for this statistic.
"That's just wrong," Blackman told Davidson. "It is a serious error."
Blackman explained that while African-American two-parent families were higher in the past, the Marriage Vow was completely false because slaves could not marry.
Bachmann told Fox News' Sean Hannity that the candidate pledge did not include the preamble with the slavery statement and that she opposes slavery.
"I just want to make it absolutely clear, I abhor slavery," Bachmann said. "Slavery was a terrible part of our nation's history. It is good that we no longer have slavery. And under no circumstances would any child be better off growing up under slavery. But that isn't what I signed. That isn't what I believe."
The Marriage Vow controversy was not limited to the reference to slavery. There were also questions about the details in the pledge itself. A few of the more controversial policies in the pledge include opposition to same-sex marriage, pornography, "seduction into promiscuity," keeping women out of military combat, supporting safeguards against adultery in the military, and "extended 'second chance' or 'cooling-off' periods for those seeking a 'quickie divorce.'"
The pledge also opposes polygamy, in part because the Family Leader believes polygamy would aid the advancement of "Sharia Islam." The pledge says that polygamy is "a demographic and strategic means for the advancement of Sharia Islamist misogyny, for attacks upon the rights of women, for the violent persecution of homosexuals, for the undermining of basic human rights, and for general religious and civil intolerance for Jewish, Christian and other non-Islamic faiths under Sharia law."
The pledge also included a "recognition" that married people live better (including sexually better) lives and that their children are better off. There is also the "recognition that robust childbearing and reproduction is beneficial to U.S. demographic, economic, strategic and actuarial health and security."
Other candidates are publicly declining to sign the pledge.
Mitt Romney told the Associated Press that he supports marriage. However, he was not going to sign the Marriage Vow because it "contained references and provisions that were undignified and inappropriate for a presidential campaign."
Tim Pawlenty also opted to say "I Don't" to the pledge. "Rather than sign onto the words chosen by others, I prefer to choose my own words, especially seeking to show compassion to those who are in broken families through no fault of their own" Pawlenty said.
Bachmann's support for the marriage vow raised further questions about her views of marriage and sexuality. Bachmann's views were already under scrutiny because of recent videos released by Truth Wins Out, an activist group that "fights anti-gay religious extremism." The videos show counselors at a clinic run by Bachmann and her husband. The counselors are advising clients that they can change their sexual orientation. The videos have pointed media attention on Bachmann's views on homosexuality.
Family Research Council president Tony Perkins defended the Bachmanns and their counselors against a feature on ABC's Nightline.
"Apparently, ABC thinks it's news that as part of a Christian-based counseling service, individuals are pointed to Christ," Perkins said. "Pointing men and women who struggle with same-sex attractions to God isn't 'a discredited form of therapy,' it's the path to sexual healing. And it's capable of bringing thousands of people out of bondage and into healthy behavior and a fuller relationship with Christ."
On Sunday, Bachmann was on CBS' Face the Nation where she was asked if homosexuality was a choice.
"You know, I firmly believe that people need to make their own decisions about that," Bachmann said. "But I am running for the presidency of the United States. I am not running to be anyone's judge."