A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Grayson Gets It Right


After two false ads, Democratic Rep. Alan Grayson of Florida finally gets it right.

Grayson, whom we criticized for twisting the words of his opponent in a TV ad called "Taliban Dan," released a new ad Oct. 6 called "The Facts" and invited the media to review it. We did. This time he mostly sticks to the facts and doesn’t resort to doctored evidence.

 

The narrator — a woman — lays out what she says are facts about Republican candidate Daniel Webster’s record regarding women. We’ll take the main points in order.

‘Covenant’ Marriage?

The ad says, "Fact: Webster sponsored a bill to create a form of marriage that would trap women in an abusive relationship." This is true, although he sponsored it two decades ago, and it didn’t pass.

Webster introduced the bill, HB 1585, in the Florida House of Representatives in 1990. It would have provided for a form of marriage known as a "covenant marriage," which could only be dissolved if adultery is proven. Had it become law, couples who opted for a covenant marriage would have been subject to the stricter divorce standard.

HB 1585: A divorce may be granted on grounds on adultery if the defendant has been guilty of adultery, but if it appears that the adultery complained of was occasioned by collusion of the parties with the intent to procure a divorce, or if it appears that both parties have been guilty of adultery, a divorce shall not be granted.

A spokeswoman for the Webster campaign, Kathy Mears, argued that entering into such a marriage would have been completely voluntary. According to the bill, both parties would have been required to declare their intent upon application for a marriage license. The declaration would have included written permission from both sets of parents, proof that both parties had attended premarital counseling, and signatures from both parties.

Nevertheless, Grayson’s carefully chosen language is accurate. Webster did in fact sponsor a bill to "create a form of marriage that would trap women in abusive relationships." Women who chose such a marriage would be unable to divorce a husband who abused them, unless they could also prove he was an adulterer.

Working Mothers

Next, the narrator says that Webster is "an advocate for a group that teaches that mothers should not work outside the home." That’s also true. Webster is closely associated with a group that tells women, "if you seek to be financially independent, your self-sufficiency can crush your husband’s spirit," and that "[a] wise wife will trust God to provide for her family’s needs through her husband’s leadership."

The Grayson campaign cites several articles that illustrate Webster’s close association with Bill Gothard, the head of the Christian evangelical group Institute in Basic Life Principles. Gothard himself told us previously that Webster used the institute’s program for home schooling his children and that Webster has been a frequent speaker on family life at the group’s regional conferences.

A Sept. 16, 1997, St. Petersburg Times article said Webster spent 14 years attending seminars, teaching classes and raising money for the institute. His wife, Sandy, uses the institute’s curriculum to teach their six children at home. Webster makes clear in the article that he does not want to force his beliefs on anyone: "I’ve never tried to say this is what’s right for everybody," he said. "All I’ve said is, ‘Here’s what works for me.’ "

A Sept. 28, 2003, St. Petersburg Times article said the group preaches a literal interpretation of the Bible, including the belief that women should submit to their husbands’ authority. That article also said Gothard’s institute teaches that "a mother violates scripture when she works outside the home ‘since no one can serve two masters.’ "

The group’s website provides women with advice on "how to be a Godly wife" by "meeting your husband’s seven basic needs." Under the header "Don’t undermine your husband’s leadership," women are warned not to seek financial independence:

Institute in Basic Life Principles: Proverbs 14:1 says, “Every wise woman buildeth her house: but the foolish plucketh it down with her hands.” A foolish wife can unknowingly — or deliberately — crush her husband’s spirit by making foolish choices. For example, if you seek to be financially independent, your self-sufficiency can crush your husband’s spirit. God gave your husband the responsibility to provide for his family. A wise wife will trust God to provide for her family’s needs through her husband’s leadership.

We spoke to David Waller at the Institute in Basic Life Principles to get some clarification. He said there is no blanket policy statement that applies to every situation. "A mother’s role, Biblically speaking, is to take care of her children and to support her husband — if those are being met and she is able to take on jobs as well, we fully support that," Waller said. The institute fully supports widows and single mothers working outside the home, he added.

Waller later e-mailed us to say that he believes the Grayson ad misrepresents the teachings of the institute. "We simply encourage mothers to keep their family a priority," he wrote.
 

Stance on Abortion

Finally, the ad says that Webster "would force victims of rape and incest to bear their attacker’s child." It’s true that Webster opposes abortion even in cases of rape and incest. He has said as much on several occasions, and Webster’s campaign confirmed it. But would he "force" that belief on women through legislation? The ad ends by saying, "Don’t let Daniel Webster make the laws we would have to live with."

Webster’s campaign tells us that he has never sponsored legislation in the state House or the Senate that would have banned abortion even for rape and incest. The Grayson campaign points to Webster’s vote for a "partial-birth" abortion bill (HB 1227) in 1997 that would have banned late-term abortions and provided an exception only for the mother’s health — not for rape and incest. Webster did not sponsor or cosponsor that bill, however.

We cannot predict the future, so we can’t say what Webster would or would not do, if elected.

— Lara Seligman