Presidential contender Tim Pawlenty declined Wednesday to sign a highly criticized marriage-themed pledge sponsored by an Iowa Christian activist group, while at the same time praising the aims of the document.
The pledge, a four-page commitment drafted by former Iowa gubernatorial candidate Bob Vander Plaats and his group The Family Leader, promotes traditional male-female marriage and reproduction and strongly condemns same-sex marriage, abortion rights, divorce, Sharia law, pornography, and women serving in forward combat roles in the military. A section that suggested that slavery helped keep African American families intact was excised from the pledge several days ago.
Pawlenty follows Mitt Romney, whose campaign said a day earlier that the former Massachusetts governor would also not sign the pledge.
The document “contained references and provisions that were undignified and inappropriate for a presidential campaign,” Romney’s spokeswoman, Andrea Saul, told the Associated Press.
But Pawlenty may be taking a bigger chance. Romney isn’t trying to capture the hearts and minds of Iowa’s social conservatives like Pawlenty has been busily attempting to do. Two of Pawlenty’s rivals in that heat, Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum, quickly signed the pledge last week.
But then, both Bachmann and Santorum were immediately criticized for the move, as they signed the version of the pledge with the slavery language. That forced both campaigns to release awkward-sounding statements reaffirming their opposition to slavery.
While Romney’s camp openly criticized the pledge, Pawlenty’s statement illustrated how the former Minnesota governor is attempting to walk a narrow path between praising the values of the document and not formally endorsing it. In it, he reiterates his opposition to same-sex marriage. But he also appears to be criticizing the now-deleted reference to African American families.
“The traditional family faces enormous challenges in America, and if elected I would vigorously oppose any effort to redefine marriage as anything other than between one man and one woman,” Pawlenty said. “I deeply respect, and share, Bob Vander Plaats’ commitment to promoting the sanctity of marriage, a culture of life, and the core principles of the Family Leader’s Marriage Vow Pledge. However, 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.”
Evangelicals are a potent force in the Iowa caucuses. Vander Plaats’s group said last week that the pledge’s purpose “is to have on record the personal convictions of each presidential candidate as it relates to the issue of marriage. The signing of the pledge will be a requirement for future endorsement.”