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Four GOP presidential candidates confirmed for Iowa religious conservative forum in November

A coalition of religious conservative groups will join forces the weekend prior to Thanksgiving to present “A Family Discussion With the Republican Candidates” at a Des Moines church. Four of seven candidates have confirmed their participation.

In an email message sent Friday to supporters, Bob Vander Plaats, chief executive of The Family Leader, explained that the organization’s purposefully chose the weekend before Thanksgiving “in the hope of giving Iowans something to discuss at the Thanksgiving dinner table.”

Working with The Family Leader, which is the political action arm of the state’s Family Research Council affiliate, are the National Organization for Marriage, a religious conservative organization devoted to opposing civil marriage for gays and lesbians, and CitizenLink, the national political arm of Focus on the Family.

Candidates thus confirmed are U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, Atlanta businessman Herman Cain, U.S. Rep. Ron Paul and former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, according to The Family Leader. The group also announced that former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Texas Gov. Rick Perry had been invited to participate.

The forum is scheduled for Nov. 19 at First Federated Church and the purpose, writes Vander Plaats, is “to allow Iowans an opportunity to further observe the candidates in a setting friendly to issues affecting the family.” The groups expect more than 2,500 people to attend.

The Family Leader contacted supporters Wednesday in hopes of garnering donations and identifying county-level faith leaders that agree with and will provide support for the group’s predominantly anti-gay mission:

“If we aren’t successful in our strategic efforts to defend Christian principles of faith, family and freedom very, very soon, it could be too late,” Vander Plaats warned in Wednesday’s message. “We need you to partner with The Family Leader today so that we can maximize our impact and influence for the next generation, and generations that follow.”

On Friday the group hoped it would be able to have representatives — “key organizations and faith leaders” — from each of Iowa’s 99 counties in attendance at the forum.

“The Thanksgiving forum will elevate issues like marriage to the forefront of Iowans’ minds and create the conversations necessary to help select the next President of the United States,” Brian Brown, president of NOM, said in a statement circulated by Vander Plaats.

Tom Minnery, executive director of CitizenLink, added in his own prepared statement that his group is “privileged to partner with The Family Leader to offer this mportant forum to advance the discussion in this extremely relevant election cycle.”

“It is more important today than it has ever been to elect a president who fairly represents the family values that Americans hold dear,” Minnery said.

The move is hardly the first time that these conservative groups or others have sought to influence the 2012 election. All of the confirmed candidates also participated as speakers in a conservative lecture series presented by The Family Leader this year. All three organizations worked with other national social conservative groups for a bus tour of the state in advance of the media-significant Ames Straw Poll last month.

NOM organizers have put forth a pledge for 2012 presidential candidates that, among other things, places a litmus test on any judicial nominations. Although the NOM offering has been widely received and accepted by the candidates, a similar although much more lengthy document by The Family Leader, “The Marriage Vow,” met mostly with skepticism. To date, only Bachmann and Santorum have signed the controversial Iowa-based pledge.

In the wake of a 2009 unanimous decision by the Iowa Supreme Court that legislative language to restrict marriage as being allowable to only heterosexual couples was a violation of the state’s equal protection clause, numerous religious conservative groups have combined time and money in order to influence the state’s first-in-the-nation caucuses, but local and state politics as well.

Iowa is one of only six states in the nation that allows for gays and lesbians to legally enter into civil marriage.

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