In recent weeks Michele Bachmann, a candidate deeply rooted in the religious right, has adopted a mildly libertarian tone.
At the Republican primary debate in June, she said that she wouldn’t interfere with state laws allowing marriage equality (though she later contradicted herself, saying that she supported an anti-gay marriage constitutional amendment.) Later that month, she responded to a question about homosexuality from Face The Nation by saying she wasn’t “running to be anyone's judge.”
But those who follow Bachmann’s career know that her evangelical commitments are even stronger than her fierce hostility to government. On Thursday, she demonstrated that once again, becoming the first Republican presidential candidate to sign a pledge that 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 pledge is the work of Bob Vander Plaats, an Iowa religious right kingmaker who runs an organization called The FAMiLY LEADER. (The lowercase ‘i’ is meant to emphasize individual submission.) Though Vander Plaats has repeatedly failed in his attempts to become Iowa’s governor, he nevertheless has a strong following among the state’s hard-right evangelicals. He was the Iowa chair of Mike Huckabee’s 2008 presidential campaign, helping his candidate score an upset victory in that state’s caucuses. Last year, he led the successful effort to oust three state Supreme Court justices who voted in favor of same-sex marriage.
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 FAMiLY.” (The italics and capitalizations are, naturally, his.) If Bachmann is to triumph in Iowa, she’ll need his help. The alliance isn’t assured, since he’s reportedly been talking to Rick Perry. It’s not surprising, then, that Bachmann rushed to put her name on his document.
“The Marriage Vow” begins on a racially charged note. “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,” it says. It continues by denouncing the “anti-scientific bias” which treats “non-heterosexual inclinations” as innate and irreversible.
To remedy the “great crisis” in the institution of marriage, the pledge demands a number of steps. Signers promise to support a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage and to protect soldiers from “intrusively intimate commingling among attracteds,” a roundabout attack on gays in the military. There’s a commitment to protect women and children from “seduction into promiscuity” as well as from porn, although it’s unclear what such protection would entail. Further, in a vaguely eugenic phrase, signatories swear to recognize the benefits of “robust childbearing” to American “demographic, economic, strategic and actuarial health and security.” It also demands the rejection of “Sharia Islam” which it labels a form of “totalitarian control.”
It will be curious to see how other candidates respond. The thrice-wed Newt Gingrich is in a bind – to sign a document pledging “personal fidelity to my spouse” and “[r]espect for the marital bonds of others” would highlight his hypocrisy, but so would not signing. Tim Pawlenty, too, is in a tough spot. He needs to do well in Iowa, but promising such far-reaching intrusion into Americans’ private lives probably wouldn’t help him in a general election. Among the religious right, combining economic libertarianism with social authoritarianism seems natural, because the movement holds that only a society run according to a strict Christian morality can properly govern itself and avoid the crushing imposition of socialism. To much of the country, though, the idea of defending what the pledge calls our “exceptional and free society” by limiting citizens’ freedoms might not make quite as much sense.
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