Did Bachmann Pledge to Ban Pornography?

A Think Progress item that’s been making the blogspheric rounds proclaims that Michell Bachmann has signed a conservative religious group’s “pro-marriage” pledge that, among other things, “calls for the banning of ‘all forms’ of pornography.” That would be news (and a sure way to lose the libertarian vote). While culturally conservative politicians routinely oppose gay marriage and abortion, and often support increased prosecution of obscenity (as occurred under the Bush Administration), there are not many who would actually call for a complete ban on pornography.

With my curiosity piqued, I decided to check out this pledge — and a good thing too. While it represents a particularly rigid and extreme form of the religious conservative position on marriage and sexual issues — and contains much to find objectionable — it does not call for a ban on “all forms of pornography” — not even close.

In the relevant portion of the pledge, a signer commits to support:

Humane protection of women and the innocent fruit of conjugal intimacy — our next generation of American children — from human trafficking, sexual slavery, seduction into promiscuity, and all forms of pornography and prostitution, infanticide, abortion and other types of coercion or stolen innocence.

This is not the most clearly drafted statement in the world, but nowhere does it call for a ban on pornography. At most it calls for the “protection” of women and children from “all forms of pornography,” which is not quite the same thing. There are many policies that could “protect” women and children from pornography short of a ban. Alternative readings — such as that a candidate vows to protect women and children from “seduction into . . . all forms of pornography” would be even less supportive of Think Progress’ interpretation. A footnote — the pledge has lots of footnotes — identifies many things as “inherently coercive of vulnerable females,” including “child pornography and prostitution,” but leaves simple pornography off the list. That’s an odd omission if the pledge actually commits its signatories to banning “all forms” of pornography. If the organizers of the pledge wish to ban pornography across the board — and for all I know, they do — they did not incorporate this position into their pledge. (See also here and here.)

As a supporter of gay marriage, among other things, I don’t particularly care for the pledge and I am more likely to support a presidential candidate who refuses to sign it. But if candidates are to be criticized for signing this pledge, its contents should not be misrepresented.

UPDATE: Pledge author Bob Vander Plaats has confirmed that the pledge does not call for banning pornography, telling a reporter “We are not calling for a nationwide band on pornography.” According to Vander Plaats, “The bullet point doesn’t even come close to calling for that.” Think Progress continues to insist otherwise.