Image: Mitt Romney
Cheryl Senter  /  AP
Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney meets with local business owners during a town hall meeting in Hampton, N.H., on Tuesday.
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updated 7/13/2011 8:40:26 AM ET 2011-07-13T12:40:26

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney's campaign said Tuesday that he will not sign a conservative Iowa Christian group's far-reaching pledge opposing gay marriage, making him the first Republican presidential candidate to reject it.

Two of Romney's rivals for the Republican nomination, Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, have signed the The Family Leader's 14-point pledge, which calls on the candidates to denounce same-sex marriage rights, pornography, same-sex military accommodations and forms of Islamic law.

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When it was first circulated last week, the introduction to the pledge stated that African American children were more likely to be raised in two-parent households when they were born into slavery than they are today.

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The group struck that language and apologized after black ministers complained, but it said it stands by the rest of the document.

'Undignified'
Andrea Saul, a spokeswoman for Romney, told The Associated Press in a written statement Tuesday that Romney "strongly supports traditional marriage," but that the oath "contained references and provisions that were undignified and inappropriate for a presidential campaign."

Bachmann and Santorum have been campaigning hard to court the influential social conservatives in Iowa, which holds the nation's first caucuses.

Video: Romney raises money abroad (on this page)

Romney's rejection of the pledge reflects his diminished focus on winning Iowa, where he spent $10 million during his 2008 presidential campaign only to finish second.

None of the other GOP presidential hopefuls, including former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich, have said whether they will sign the pledge or not.

Romney, who supported rights for gay couples in Massachusetts, was criticized in Iowa by some Iowa social conservatives during his 2008 campaign, when he finished second in the caucuses after aggressively courting Christian conservatives.

Story: Presidential candidates warn about compromise in debt deal

In his second bid, Romney, who leads in national GOP polls, has cast himself as a national figure more focused on the economy, and has said he would not spend as much time and money campaigning in Iowa as he did during his $10 million effort for the 2008 caucuses.

'Not backing away'
The Family Leader, an organization formed last year and positioning itself to be an influential player in the 2012 caucuses, said Tuesday they stand by the 14 policy positions listed under the promise to "defend and to uphold the institution of marriage as only between one man and one woman."

The points include the promise to be faithful to their spouses, enforce the federal Defense of Marriage Act and support a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.

The group said signing the oath is a condition of winning its endorsement before the caucuses.

"We are standing firm that the 14 points of the marriage vow are right on target and we are creating higher standards for the presidential candidates," said Julie Summa, director of marketing and public outreach for The Family Leader.

"We are not backing away from that at all," she added.

Story: Pawlenty blasts Bachmann's 'nonexistent' record

Gay marriage has been a volatile issue in Iowa in recent years, and came to a head in 2009 when the Iowa Supreme Court struck down the state's statutory ban on gay marriage, making same-sex marriages legal.

Republican presidential candidate Jon Huntsman is not campaigning in Iowa, citing his past opposition to farm subsidies, although he also supported rights for same-sex couples as governor of Utah.

Huntsman campaign aides said Tuesday the former U.S. ambassador to China is declining to sign any pledges as part of his campaign.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Photos: Mitt Romney

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  1. Mitt Romney at the age of 1, in 1948, the son of the eventual three-term Republican governor of Michigan and unsuccessful presidential candidate, George Romney, and his wife, Lenore, an unsuccessful candidate for senator from Michigan. (MittRomney.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Mitt with his father, George Romney, taken about 1957. (MittRomney.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. American Motors President George Romney with his wife, children, and grandchildren. Mitt Romney's father was elected governor of Michigan in 1962. Mitt was an intern in the governor's office and traveled with his father to the 1964 Republican National Convention. (Francis Miller / Time & Life Pictures via Getty Image) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Mitt Romney, at left, with fellow Mormon missionaries in front of the police station in Limoges, central France, in autumn 1968. The fresh-faced Latter-Day Saints who came to France in the late 1960s to preach the message of Jesus Christ -- of which Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is the most well-known -- discovered a secular and skeptical populace, and few willing converts. On bad days, the young Americans were greeted with guns, or barking dogs chased at their heels. Romney has said his mission, which took him through LeHavre, Paris and Bordeaux, was a testing time, with rejection an everyday occurrence. But it was precisely this two and half years that helped cement Romney's tenacity and his faith, say current and former missionaries. (Mike Bush via Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Mitt and Ann Lois Davies on their wedding day, March 21, 1969. They first met in elementary school, but started dating in the spring of 1965. Later Ann suffered from multiple sclerosis and breast cancer. (MittRomney.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Mitt and Ann Romney with their five sons in 1981: Tagg, Matt, Josh, Ben and Craig. (MittRomney.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Mitt Romney, CEO and president of Salt Lake Organizing Committee, joins U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft on Jan. 22, 2002 at a press conference ahead of the city's Olympic Games. Before Romney came on, the event was running $379 million behind budget and allegations of bribery shook the organization's top brass. Romney was also tasked with keeping the games safe in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks. (George Frey / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Former Salt Lake Organizing Committee President Mitt Romney, with his wife Ann, speaks at a press conference on March 19, 2002 at his home in Belmont, Mass. Romney announced that he was entering the governor's race. The announcement came just hours after acting Gov. Jane Swift announced she will bow out of the contest. (Darren McCollester / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. President George W. Bush stands beside Massachusetts gubernatorial candidate Mitt Romney at the Seaport Hotel on Oct. 4 2002 in Boston, Massachusetts. Bush was campaigning in the Bay State as Republicans attempted to extend a 12-year grip on the governorship of this otherwise Democratic-controlled commonwealth. Romney went on to serve as governor from 2003-2007. (Tim Sloan / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Two men on opposite sides of the issue argue over gay marriage outside the Massachusetts State House while the legislature was in its second day of debate over a possible constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage on Feb. 12, 2004 in Boston. The proposed amendment, supported by Gov. Mitt Romney, was drafted in response to a state Supreme Judicial Court ruling declaring that the right to same-sex marriage was protected by the state's constitution. (Michael Springer / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Photographs of the victims line the stage as Rhode Island Gov. Donald Carcieri, his wife Suzanne, Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and his wife Ann bow their heads in prayer during a memorial service on the eve of the one-year anniversary of The Station nightclub fire Feb. 19, 2004 in Cranston, R.I. The Station, located in nearby West Warwick, was destroyed and 100 people died after a fire broke out when the rock band Great White ignited pyrotechnics on Feb. 20, 2003. (Michael Springer / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Mitt Romney looks on while Massachusetts Secretary of Transportation John Cogliano speaks during a press conference at the Statehouse in Boston. Governor Romney announced on July 13, 2006 that he was filing emergency legislation to give the Executive Branch the authority to oversee the inspection of the failed ceiling system in the I-90 Connector tunnel. A large section of the "Big Dig" tunnel was found to be faulty after a 12-ton portion collapsed, killing a woman and injuring her husband. (Darren Mccollester / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Romney signs into law a new health care reform bill during a ceremony at Faneuil Hall April 12, 2006 in Boston. The late Sen. Edward Kennedy joined Romney for the signing of the bill, which made Massachusetts the first state in the country to require all residents have health insurance. His support of a plan that many feel was an inspiration for "Obamacare" has put the Republican on the defensive ahead of the 2012 elections. (Joe Raedle / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Romney and his wife Ann turn to wave from the red carpet in front of the Statehouse, in Boston, as he completes his "lone walk" out on Jan. 3, 2007, the day before his replacement, Deval Patrick, is sworn in as the new governor. (Steven Senne / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Romney officially announces he is entering the race for the Republican presidential nomination Feb. 13, 2007 at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Mich. Romney kicked off his three-day, four state announcement tour of Michigan, Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, addressing the need to build a "new American dream" by strengthening families and education. (Bill Pugliano / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Romney speaks on faith in America at The George Bush Presidential Library on Texas A & M University campus Dec. 6, 2007 in College Station, Texas. Romney talked about the role of religion in government and his Mormon faith. As a young missionary, Romney spent several years in France. (Ben Sklar / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Romney speaks, alongside his sons and wife, during a post-primary rally on Jan. 29, 2008 in St. Petersburg, Fla. Romney came in second to John McCain. Days earlier, McCain took the South Carolina primary, where Romney placed fourth. (Alex Wong / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Trailing John McCain following the Super Tuesday presidential primaries, Romney calls it quits during a speech to the Conservative Political Action Committee on Feb. 7, 2008 in Washington. He's seen here, waving goodbye to the crowd with his wife Ann. (Jonathan Ernst / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Romney shakes hands with Sen. John McCain after endorsing his presidential bid in Boston on Feb. 14, 2008. Romney had just ended his own, unsuccessful bid for the Republican nomination. All in all, Romney won 11 primaries and caucuses and was considered to be on McCain's short-list for vice president. (Darren Mccollester / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Romney reacts to the crowd on day three of the Republican National Convention at the Xcel Energy Center on Sept. 3, 2008 in St. Paul, Minn. Having failed in his own bid to headline the party ticket, Romney threw his support toward John MCCain, who was officially nominated on the last day of the convention. (Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. "No Apology: The Case for American Greatness," written by Romney, is seen in Washington, D.C., on March 5, 2010. The major theme of the book is the idea of American exceptionalism - meant to address Romney's belief that President Barack Obama spends too much time abroad apologizing for past national trangressions. (Tim Sloan / AFP/Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Volunteers participate in a Mitt Romney phone bank fundraiser, Monday, May 16, 2011, in Las Vegas. The former Massachusetts governor worked with volunteers to reach out to voters and donors through cell phones and computers. (Julie Jacobson / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney announces he joining the race for President of the United States, June 2, 2011, during a campaign event at Bittersweet Farm in Stratham, N.H. (Stephan Savoia / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Mitt Romney and his wife Ann embrace at the Hotel Fort Des Moines on the night of the Iowa Caucuses Jan. 3, 2012 in Des Moines, Iowa. On the night of the Iowa contest, Mitt Romney was projected the winner by a mere eight votes, but on Jan. 19, the Iowa GOP declared that after certifying the results, Santorum had officially won the primary by 34 votes. (Win Mcnamee / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. Former presidential nominee, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., left, announces his endorsement of Mitt Romney during a town hall meeting at Central High School Jan. 4, 2012 in Manchester, N.H. (Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. Romney takes center stage during his primary night rally with members of his family, left to right, Matt, Tagg, Craig, wife Ann, Ben and Josh Romney following the first-in-the-nation primary at Southern New Hampshire University Jan. 10, 2012 in Manchester, N.H. Romney finished first in the state's primary election with 39% of the vote and collected seven delegates. (Win Mcnamee / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. Mitt Romney waves to supporters behind him as he takes the podium on primary night in Columbia, South Carolina on Jan. 21, 2012. Romney conceded defeat in the South Carolina primary to former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich who came from behind to beat him by 12 percent. (Pool / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. Romney shakes hands with supporters at his Florida primary night rally in Tampa, Jan. 31. Romney beat his four opponents and collected the state's 50 delegates, putting him in the lead with 87 delegates, ahead of Newt Gingrich's 26. (Steve Nesius / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. Mitt Romney shakes hands with businessman and real estate developer Donald Trump at the Trump Hotel in Las Vegas, Feb. 2. Trump re-injected himself and his wealth into the Republican presidential race by endorsing Romney, a day after the front-runner stumbled with remarks suggesting he was indifferent to America's poor. (Steve Marcus / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  30. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney greets his wife and family along with vice presidential candidate, Paul Ryan, his wife and family on stage after accepting the nomination at the Republican National Convention on Aug. 30, in Tampa, Florida. (Joe Raedle / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
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Video: Romney raises money abroad

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