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Iowa Group Divorces Itself From Controversial Marriage Pledge

Family Leader CEO Bob Vander Plaats said he does not want to see the "Marriage Vow" pledge used as a weapon against the candidates they might support.
Charlie Neibergall
Family Leader CEO Bob Vander Plaats said he does not want to see the "Marriage Vow" pledge used as a weapon against the candidates they might support.

Four years ago, pledges were en vogue in the early going of the Republican presidential primary. But a prominent one, that landed some of the candidates in hot water, is being nixed this time around.

The pledge by the Family Leader, a Christian conservative group in Iowa, asked 2012 GOP White House hopefuls to sign a 14-point manifesto which was billed as an anti-same-sex marriage pledge. It included a vow from candidates of personal fidelity to their spouse and "vigorous opposition to any redefinition of the Institution of Marriage."

It was considered a prerequisite to receive the influential social conservative group's endorsement. And candidates badly in need of a boost, like Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., and Rick Santorum, R-Pa., were willing to sign on.

But the pledge also included language stating that married people have "better sex"; it banned pornography, opposed Sharia Law, and its preamble suggested African-Americans born into slavery had a better family structure than exists today:

"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."

Mitt Romney declined to sign. Bachmann and Santorum later claimed they hadn't fully read it. Santorum went on to win Iowa, a state where nearly six-in-10 Iowa Republican voters consider themselves born-again or evangelical Christians.

For the 2016 crop of Republican candidates, though, as first reported by the Des Moines Register and confirmed by NPR, there will be no such pledge this time around from the group.

"We do not currently have plans to draft a marriage pledge," according to a statement released to NPR by the Family Leader. "While we remain committed to our very deep convictions about the family and natural marriage, in the previous election cycle, our proposed marriage pledge regrettably distracted from the issues themselves."

The Family Leader took the unusual step in 2012 of not endorsing any candidate, though Bob Vander Plaats, the CEO of the group did throw his individual endorsement behind Santorum. In 2008, he endorsed former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who also went on to win the caucuses that year. But Vander Plaats, too, does not want to see the pledge used as a weapon against the candidates they might support.

"You know, our opponents want to pick apart things that we do," Vander Plaats told the Des Moines Register Tuesday. "We want to make sure that the candidates are full-spectrum, pro-family conservatives."

National Republicans are leery of once again having their candidates derailed by potentially inflammatory comments, especially with such a big field. It's one reason why the Republican National Committee moved to shrink the number of debates and put their production more under their control.

But that doesn't mean the social issues won't come up. The Family Leader points to the Supreme Court's upcoming ruling on same-sex marriage to become a "significant and spotlighted" issue of the campaign. The group is planning about a half-dozen events, including a Family Leadership Summit in Ames, Iowa, in July as a way for candidates to share their stances.

"Those events will allow potential candidates to cast their pro-family vision and enable Iowans to listen to, question, and thoroughly vet them," according to the group's statement.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Brakkton Booker is a National Desk reporter based in Washington, DC.