Last week, Vice President Dick Cheney and his wife, Lynne, ginned up some righteous indignation over the fact that John Kerry had dared to mention their gay daughter, Mary, during the final presidential debate of the campaign. The mention came when Kerry and President Bush were asked whether people made a choice to become homosexual or were born that way.
"I thought it was totally inappropriate," the vice president said, calling himself "an angry father."
His wife was even more blunt.
"The only thing I could conclude is that [Kerry] is not a good man," she said. "This is not a good man. And, of course, I'm speaking as a mom. And a pretty indignant one. This is not a good man. What a cheap and tawdry political trick."
It is indeed cheap and tawdry to try to score political points by dragging the private lives of other people into the public spotlight. I could not agree more.
However, Kerry did not drag Mary Cheney into the issue. It is not the Democrats who have insisted that her private life — and the private lives of millions of other gay Americans — is an appropriate topic of political debate. It is not the Democrats who have cynically calculated that by raising the specter of gay marriage, they could prod millions of new conservative voters to go to the ballot box. It is not the Democrats who have decided to incite bigotry against Mary Cheney and others like her and to use that hate and distrust as a political recruiting device.
Of course, the Cheneys could claim to be angry because Kerry cited their daughter by name, as an individual. But that's just the point. Gay Americans are not nameless, faceless people. They are individuals, with parents of their own concerned about their welfare.
In the past, Cheney himself has publicly cited his daughter's sexual orientation in explaining why he disagrees with Bush about the gay marriage amendment. "Lynne and I have a gay daughter, so it's an issue that our family is very familiar with," he said a few weeks ago. "With respect to the question of relationships, my general view is that freedom means freedom for everyone. People ought to be able to free — ought to be free to enter into any kind of relationship they want to."
It is inconceivable that Cheney, who as a congressman opposed the Martin Luther King holiday and the use of sanctions against apartheid in South Africa, would be taking that enlightened position if he did not have a gay daughter to give the issue a human face, a face that he loved.
Here in Georgia, as in other states, the Republican Party has placed a question on the November ballot that would enshrine a gay marriage ban into the state constitution, even though state law already makes it clear that in Georgia, only unions between a man and a woman can be recognized as a marriage.
The measure is completely unnecessary, but Republican leaders hope that if people are given a means to publicly express their condemnation of "the gay lifestyle," a lot of them will flock to the ballot booths to do so.
Nationally, the proposed constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage is designed to serve the same purpose. It stands no chance of passage; it fell well short of the necessary two-thirds majority in the House, and, in the Senate, the bill couldn't muster a bare majority.
But the goal of its sponsors was never to pass the amendment anyway. It has been, from the very beginning, a callous, calculated effort to squeeze political gain from the issue. Those who planned that strategy may not have cited Mary Cheney by name in their campaign, but they were nonetheless claiming that she and others like her posed a danger to family, marriage and basic decency, a danger that must be halted lest we bring God's wrath down upon this country.
So yes, Dick and Lynne Cheney have reason to be angry and indignant. So do the parents of millions of other gay Americans. But they should make sure that ire is directed at the responsible parties.
© 2004 The Atlantic Journal - Constitution