Controversy Grows Around 2 Anti-Gay Pols’ Signing of ’Marriage’ Vow Citing ’Slavery’

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Monday July 11, 2011

Michele Bachmann was the first contender for the GOP 2012 presidential nomination to sign on to a 14-point campaign agenda created by a right-wing religious group in Iowa.

Bachmann and Rick Santorum, who also signed the pledge, are now receiving criticism for having signed the document, which claims that African American children born into slavery were better off than African-American children were today.

The 14-point pledge, titled "The Marriage Vow -- A Declaration of Dependence Upon Marriage and Family," was created by Iowa religious group THE FAMiLY LEADER. The head of the group, Bob Vander Plaats, a 48-year-old bachelor, has led anti-gay actions before. Vander Plaats led the successful campaign last year to see several Iowa State Supreme Court justices replaced when they came up for retention votes.

Vander Plaats targeted the justices because of the court's unanimous finding that a state law barring marriage equality conflicted with the state's constitution. That finding opened the door to same-sex marriage in Iowa, the first heartland state to permit matrimonial parity for gays and lesbians.

"Vander Plaats has sworn not to endorse anyone who doesn't sign his pledge, titled 'The Marriage Vow: A Declaration of Dependence upon Marriage and the Family,' " a July 8 Daily Beast Article posted at reported.

The religious group has given candidates a deadline of Aug. 1 to sign on.

The pledge attacks sexual minorities on several fronts and hails large families. Bachmann, who is well known for her anti-gay stance, unhesitatingly signed the document the same day it debuted, on July 7. A second anti-gay politician, Rick Santorum, also signed the pledge.

The 14-point pledge suggests that it should be the government's job to supervise what people see, hear, and read, and takes aim at the Muslim faith.

As a presidential hopeful, Bachmann has said both that she would support a federal Constitutional amendment to bar marriage equality for gay and lesbian American families, and that she would be inclined to leave issues such as marriage up to each state to decide for itself.

The Daily Beast article called the pledge "wacky," and noted that the pledge signed by Bachmann "commits her to fighting not only gay marriage, abortion, and 'quickie divorce,' but also 'all forms of pornography.'

"The pledge goes on to imply that African-American families were in some ways better off under slavery than they are today, and argues that homosexuality can be cured," the Daily Beast article noted.

Though the mainstream press took little note of the anti-gay content of the document, its racial overtones were quickly identified, making headlines even overseas. A July 10 article in British newspaper the Guardian suggested that Bachmann might make a "life lesson" out of the controversy: "Read the Small Print in [the Word] 'Slavery' Appears," advised the article's headline.

"At a cursory glance, it seemed a no-brainer," the Guardian reported, "to pledge herself to the sanctity of marriage and family. She is openly opposed to gay marriages, and has five children as well as having fostered 23 others. Marriage, family -- no problem!

"But then the details of the pledge were picked up on the blogosphere, notably a clause in it referring to slavery. As Politico pointed out, the preamble of the pledge contains this phrase:

" '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 Politico article was posted on July 9.

"As a general matter of course, it is not a good idea for American politicians to stray into the subject of slavery unless they've done a great deal of homework and are extremely confident about what they are saying," the Guardian article noted. "And as intelligent commentary on slavery goes, the preamble missed the target by miles."

The American news media also took note of the document's racial content.

"An aide said she did not hesitate to sign," a June 8 Washington Post article said. "Maybe she didn't hesitate because she didn't read it. Signing this vow is tantamount to shoving someone else's foot in your mouth.

"By signing, she agreed to ban pornography, called homosexuality a choice, and implied that slavery -- while not perfect -- at least guaranteed that children grew up in two-parent households," added the article.

'Family Values' at Work

"Given that families were broken up regularly for sales during slavery and that rape by masters was pretty common, this could not be more offensive," declared a posting at Jack and Jill Politics. "When will Republicans inquire with actual Black people whether or not we're ok with invoking slavery to score cheap political points?"

On The View, talk host Whoopi Goldberg and her colleagues reacted to the pledge.

"I am starting to feel like there is some kind of racial thing going around," Goldberg said, to audience laughter. "Could you people get your act together? You don't know anything about how slaves raised their kids... just don't add stuff like that if you don't know what you're talking about.

"Number two," Goldberg continued, "white people, black people, Asian people, some of use are single, parents; some of us turned out okay with single parents. And you know what? Stop pointing a finger at single parents!"

Well after outrage had already been unleashed, the anti-gay religious group struck the text containing the inflammatory remarks about African Americans. The Politico article included a statement from THE FAMiLY LEADER that claimed that the comment about African American families had been "misconstrued" by commentators.

"After careful deliberation and wise insight and input from valued colleagues we deeply respect, we agree that the statement referencing children born into slavery can be misconstrued, and such misconstruction can detract from the core message of the Marriage Vow," the statement read, adding that the "core message" was "that ALL of us must work to strengthen and support families and marriages between one woman and one man.

"We sincerely apologize for any negative feelings this has caused, and have removed the language from the vow," THE FAMiLY LEADER added.

"But the damage had been done, in that Bachmann, as well as her fellow presidential candidate Rick Santorum, had already signed the unexpurgated version," the Guardian noted.

Santorum, another anti-gay politician, sparked outrage some years ago with an infelicitous statement that likened lifelong devotion between gay and lesbian couples to "man on dog" sex.

Moreover, the document's claim turned out to have little factual basis, the Guardian noted. "Nate Silver, the New York Times' razor-sharp political statistician, pointed out on his Twitter account that the highly dubious claim about black families had in fact come from a research paper from the Institute for American Values that referred to the period 1880-1910 and had nothing to do with slavery in any case," the article said.

The pledge's backers made other controversial claims.

"Married people enjoy better health," Vander Plaats stated. "They enjoy better sex, longer lives, greater financial stability, and children raised by a mother and father together experience better learning, less addiction, less legal trouble and less extramarital pregnancy."

Those claims, often repeated by anti-gay activists, are drawn from studies of children raised by single mothers. But studies looking at children of two-parents of the same sex show that they fare just as well as, and in some respects may fare better than, children raised by two heterosexual parents.

Vander Plaats' group excoriated gays in the course the 14-point pledge. Among other things, the pledge demands that GOP candidates uphold the notion that marriage equality is somehow linked to unrelated issues such as polygamy. The pledge further asks candidates to oppose the inclusion of openly gay and lesbian service member in the U.S. Armed Forces, and suggests that gays are attracted to others of the same gender as a matter of choice.

Moreover, the Independent article said, the pledge accuses gays of being "a public health risk."

Though much of the pledge concerns itself with gays, the 14 points also take aim at heterosexual, decrying promiscuity and demanding that candidates vow to fight for the censorship of pornography, framing the issues in the context of protecting women and children.

In addition to all of that, the pledge requires candidates to promise to fight any hint of Islamic law becoming part of the U.S. code, calling Muslim Sharia law a "form of totalitarian control," the Independent reported.

Some online stories took note of the way THE FAMiLY LEADER's name is capitalized, with the "i" in lower-case. To some commentators, this suggested that the group believes that the rights of the individual should be suborned to the service of a larger institution.

A Bachmann spokesperson said that the anti-gay politician was sticking by THE FAMiLY LEADER pledge despite the controversy, saying that Bachmann had signed on to the "vow" portion of the document and not the "preamble," which contained the controversial claims about African Americans.

"She stands by the points that are outlined in the pledge," the spokesperson told Fox News. "Particularly the ones for strong marriage. She's been happily married for 32 years. That's the focus of the pledge."

Bachmann is a Tea Party favorite and one of the most popular GOP contenders for the nomination, outranking all others in the crowded field except for Mitt Romney. The rest trail far behind Bachmann and Romney.

But Bachmann is also one of the most anti-gay candidates. Moreover, her husband, Marcus Bachmann, has resurfaced in headlines recently for an interview with a Christian radio broadcaster in which he declared that gays are "barbarians" who need "discipline," lest they convert schoolchildren into "sinful" homosexuals and otherwise destroy American society. Marcus Bachmann also advocated for anti-gay "action steps."

"We have to understand: Barbarians need to be educated," Marcus Bachmann said on the May 12, 2010 broadcast of "Point of View," a radio show that purports to promote a "biblical Christian worldview."

"They need to be disciplined," Bachmann continued. "Just because someone feels it or thinks it doesn't mean that we are supposed to go down that road. That's what is called the sinful nature. We have a responsibility as parents and as authority figures not to encourage such thoughts and feelings from moving into the action steps."

The Los Angeles Times noted that Marcus Bachmann apparently believes that it's possible for gayness to be spread like a contagion, and has suggested that children are at risk of being converted into gays and lesbians at school.

Another GOP candidate, Gary Johnson, the former governor of New Mexico, did not sign on to the pledge, but instead blasted it, gay news blog JoeMyGod reported on July 11.

"This 'pledge' is nothing short of a promise to discriminate against everyone who makes a personal choice that doesn't fit into a particular definition of 'virtue,' " Johnson declared.

"While THE FAMiLY LEADER pledge covers just about every other so-called virtue they can think of, the one that is conspicuously missing is tolerance," added Johnson. "In one concise document, they manage to condemn gays, single parents, single individuals, divorcees, Muslims, gays in the military, unmarried couples, women who choose to have abortions, and everyone else who doesn't fit in a Norman Rockwell painting."

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.