Were Dick Cheney not a Republican and not, in the eyes of the left, the most reviled member of the most reviled administration in history, he would leave office with gay leaders and advocates singing his praises. For Dick Cheney leaves office today as the most pro-gay vice president in the history of our country.
Known as a vice president very loyal to the president, Cheney almost never disagreed with George W. Bush since Bush tapped the former defense secretary as his running mate in July 2000. On gay issues, however, Cheney frequently made public statements that went beyond the president’s official policies and, at least once, directly opposed them.
He first distinguished himself from Bush on October 5, 2000, in the vice presidential debate. While Bush had not taken a public position on state recognition of same-sex unions, his record in Texas indicated that he was not in favor.
When debate moderator Bernard Shaw asked, “Should a male who loves a male and a female who loves a female have all — all the constitutional rights enjoyed by every American citizen,” one might thus have expected Bush’s running mate to offer an equivocal response. But Cheney did not mince words:
We live in a free society, and freedom means freedom for everybody. We shouldn’t be able to choose and say you get to live free and you don’t. That means people should be free to enter into any kind of relationship they want to enter into. It’s no one’s business in terms of regulating behavior in that regard. The next step then, of course, is the question you ask of whether or not there ought to be some kind of official sanction of the relationships or if they should be treated the same as a traditional marriage. … I think different states are likely to come to different conclusions, and that’s appropriate. … We ought to do everything we can to tolerate and accommodate whatever kind of relationships people want to enter into.
In this debate, he didn’t take issue with something his running mate had said or even suggested. Instead, he offered an opinion that some social conservatives, part of the president’s base, might find offensive.
Once elected, however, he would take issue with a public stand Bush had taken on a gay issue. It would be the first — and only time — he would publicly disagree with his running mate in their first term in office.
Asked during the 2004 campaign what he thought about “homosexual marriages,” Cheney spoke openly about his gay daughter, saying how “blessed” he was with her and her sister: “They’re both fine young women.” At the same time, he made clear that he opposed the Federal Marriage Amendment (FMA), which would have amended the constitution to define marriage as the union of one man and one woman. President Bush had announced his support for the amendment earlier in the year.
It wasn’t just his policies. His actions, especially his treatment of his gay daughter Mary, helped define him as the most pro-gay vice president in American history.
In her book, Now It’s My Turn, Mary recounts how her father reacted when she first came out to him: “The first words out of his mouth were exactly the ones I wanted to hear: ‘You’re my daughter and I love you and I just want you to be happy.’”
Later, he would welcome Mary’s partner Heather into their family. They sat together at President Bush’s first inauguration in 2001, his second in 2005, and even today at President Obama’s swearing-in. Heather joined Mary on the stage with the families of the president and vice president when Bush declared victory in 2004. The two women sat together at the White House dinner for Britain’s Prince Charles and his wife Camilla.
In short, in settings both public as well as private, the conservative vice president treated his younger daughter’s female partner just as he treated his older daughter’s husband: as a member of the family.
Cheney didn’t just look out for his daughter. He also looked out for other gay people as well.
When one of her friends, a Bush supporter, feared he might be “outed” and lose his job when the then-president announced his support for the FMA, she brought up his concerns with her father who told her to “tell this person that if anyone — I don’t care who it is — if anyone gives him any trouble, he is to come see me and I’ll take care of it.”
That conservative Republican was willing to go to bat for a gay person.
No vice president in history has done so much for gay people as has Dick Cheney. To be sure, Cheney is the first vice president to have an openly gay child. He treats her as gay activists have long wanted parents to treat their gay children — loving them just as they did before they came out, accepting them as they are, and welcoming their same-sex spouses into their families. And it wasn’t just in private where Cheney loved and accepted his daughter.
In public, he was more than just the proud father of a lesbian daughter. He also spoke out on gay issues, even disagreeing with the then-president to express his opposition to a constitutional amendment the his running mate supported.
Yet, when Cheney left office, encomia were not forthcoming from any gay organization. Searches of the websites of the leading gay organizations (e.g.,Human Rights Campaign, The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, National Center for Lesbian Rights) reveal no mention of this historic vice presidency.
It would have been a lot different if he were a Democrat. The would certainly have praised him for treating his lesbian daughter with dignity. But that (R) after his name seems to render a politician immune from praise from gay organizations, activists, and left-wing bloggers. It seems that all too often their first concern is not the well-being of gay people, but the promotion of a liberal agenda and the demonization of Republicans.
If the gay organizations were doing their job, they would acknowledge how much a role model Dick Cheney has been, daring to differ with his running mate on gay issues and treating his gay daughter as we would wish all parents treated such children.
But for some people, alas, politics trumps all.