JOHN KERRY’S DECISION to mention Vice President Dick Cheney’s lesbian daughter, Mary, during the final presidential debate caused such an uproar among Republicans one would have thought the Democratic nominee had gone out on the town gay-bashing. “This is not a good man,” seethed vice-presidential spouse and cultural conservative maven Lynne Cheney at a post-debate rally in Pennsylvania with her husband in tow. “Of course, I am speaking as a mom, and a pretty indignant mom . . . What a cheap and tawdry political trick.” Days after the debate a Washington Post poll showed 64 percent of voters felt Kerry’s comment — “If you were to talk to Dick Cheney’s daughter, who is a lesbian, she would tell you that she’s being who she was, she’s being who she was born as” — was inappropriate to include in his response to a question about whether or not homosexuality was a choice (Kerry didn’t think it was, the president said he didn’t know). On the weekend pundit shows, there was general cluck-clucking over Kerry’s comments as a breach of familial privacy. Washington Times editor Tony Blankley went so far on PBS’s The McLaughlin Group to compare the comment to President Ford’s 1976 debate gaffe where he argued Poland was free.
Conservative pundits saw an opportunity to pounce, but Lynne Cheney's anger clearly came from someplace deeper. Just who exactly enraged her? It may not have been Kerry but instead the right wing of her party which holds her daughter in such little regard, or even herself, for being in a position where she has to defend a GOP platform that is actively working to make Mary a permanent second-class citizen.
The offended party has once again stayed silent, unlike her breeder sister Elizabeth, who is often trotted out at campaign events to talk about how the Second Couple make terrific grandparents to her flamingly heterosexual brood. A highly paid senior adviser to her father, Mary Cheney does not speak to the press, which is probably best for the Bush campaign, which has done nothing in terms of gay and lesbian voter outreach and done everything to make the issue of same-sex marriage the Willie Horton of 2004. If Mary Cheney actually spoke, gays and lesbians might be perceived by conservative voters as people instead of as a threat to normal Americans or as the obsession of “activist judges.” Unlike 20 years ago, when social conservatives ignored the disease-wracked gay community, today the Grail-like hunt for Karl Rove’s 4 million evangelicals brought legislatively pointless but politically expedient federal marriage-amendment votes in Washington, and fueled the statewide constitutional amendments banning gay marriage that voters in 11 states from Oregon to Georgia must decide on November 2.
Mary Cheney wasn’t always so quiet — her work in community outreach for Coors (where she toured the country with the 1999 Mr. International Leather) had her speaking in bars frequented by the very people her father worked to throw out of the military as defense secretary and voted to deny AIDS funding as a member of Congress. For a while she even joined the Republican Unity Coalition, which hoped to make gays a nonissue for the GOP. But she left without making a mark.
If she ever did comment, Mary Cheney might say she’s thankful she lives in Colorado as opposed to Michigan or Ohio, two states considering constitutional changes that would not only ban gay marriage but prevent same-sex couples from making any sort of legal relationships, leaving her and her housemate Heather Poe without something as simple as the power of attorney for each other or even the domestic-partnership benefits she got from Coors.
One wonders if she would have harsh words for Kerry. Kerry, of course, didn’t create the paradigm that stopped Mary Cheney from going on the stage with the rest of her family after her father’s speech at the GOP convention, perhaps because the Cheneys feared more-rabid conventioneers would start booing. It’s not a stretch to theorize Kerry was taking a page from Republicans, trying to create a wedge of his own between Bush and his least tolerant supporters, who would like to see Mary and Poe not cohabitating but in ex-gay therapy.
But at least Kerry used kind words. Lynne and Dick indicated no outrage toward Illinois Senate candidate Alan Keyes, who said in August he considered lesbians like Mary to be selfish hedonists. Interesting coming from Keyes, considering he apparently has a lesbian daughter of his own, whom Kerry failed to reference.
Taking all of this into account, the campaign, and even Mary’s own parents, may see her speaking out against the debate as a threat to the Bush-Cheney re-election. If that’s true, it’s no wonder a loyal daughter like Mary Cheney has nothing to say.