Thursday, October 21, 2004

The Cheneys and gay rights

The presidential campaign we have witnessed this year is not only the most vicious, it is also the most bizarre. From the time he wrapped up the nomination, Kerry's opponents have sought to "define" him by attacking his character -- that he is a man without principles, a flip-flopper, the most liberal member of the senate, even a traitor, that he did not deserve the awards he received while in Vietnam, and so on.

It was with the three debates that Kerry was able to end his slide downwards and pull even, because here the two men were face to face and had to discuss the substantive issues that our country faces, as opposed to what either of them were doing during the Vietnam war, for example. Most Americans believe Kerry won all three debates.

Now that the debates are over it is back to the mudslinging. And one of the attacks against Kerry is that he mentioned that Dick Cheney's daughter, Mary Cheney, is gay in the context of answering a question, as to whether or not homosexuals are born that way or do they become gay by choice. He mentioned her and her family in a very complimentary way, but apparently Republicans saw an opportunity to attack Kerry on this matter. Dick Cheney announced he was an angry father; Lynne Cheney said she knows now that Kerry is not a good man.

But what are the ethics here? Dick Cheney had publicly mentioned his daughter's sexuality very recently in answering a similar question. That Mary Cheney is a lesbian is well known, and she has not been shy to express herself on the matter publicly, even serving in a well paid position as the Coors liason to the gay community. Cheney thanked John Edwards, when Edwards made essentially the same statement as Kerry in their debate. How does it suddenly become wrong for Kerry to mention it? Furthermore, what about Alan Keyes, Republican candidate for senator in Illinois, and Jerry Falwell, both of whom have denounced Cheney's daughter (in contrast to Kerry who complemented her) for being gay? Neither of the Cheneys protested those denunciations. The answer, it seems, is that it is okay for Cheney to mention his daughter being gay because he is the father; and it is not so bad for Falwell or Keyes because they are not running for president, or maybe because they are not liberal Democrats. It is difficult to fathom any clear sense of ethical principles in this attack on Kerry.

What is stranger, though, is that Bush and the Republicans have made the anti-Gay Marriage Constitutional Amendment into a campaign issue -- Tom DeLay even demanded a roll call vote on the matter even though he knew it would be defeated -- yet, here Cheney's daughter is a lesbian and Cheney has himself said he believes the matter should be left to the states. It smacks of rank hypocrisy for people who support restrictions on the rights of gay people to so passionately denounce Kerry simply because he mentioned Mary Cheney's sexual orientation in the debate.

The hypocrisy gets deeper. Andrew Sullivan commented on it four years ago in an article for The New Republic:

On gay matters, Cheney's congressional record is not just bad. It's shocking. Cheney was one of only 13 representatives to vote against the landmark 1988 bill that initiated federal funding for AIDS testing and counseling — putting him to the right of even Tom DeLay and Dick Armey, both of whom voted for it. He was one of only 29 House members to vote against the 1988 Hate Crimes Statistics Act, which merely allowed the federal government to collect data on violent crimes based on race, religion, ethnicity, or sexual orientation, and he voted for an amendment that added gratuitously anti-gay language to the bill. He supported measures to cut federal AIDS research and to allow health-insurance discrimination against people with HIV in the District of Columbia. As defense secretary, despite once describing the ban on gays in the military as an "old chestnut," Cheney solidly backed the old policy of harassment of gay soldiers and their ejection, however distinguished their records, from the Armed Forces.

... There is, however, a second possibility — that the Cheneys don't disapprove of their daughter's lesbianism at all but, for political reasons, must pretend to. After all, Jerry Falwell, one of Bush's key allies on the Christian right, has already described Cheney's daughter as "errant." The Republican platform expresses its opposition to special "rights" for homosexuals. Cheney comes from Wyoming, the state where Matthew Shepard was murdered, and had to represent his constituents in the 1980s. Perhaps he feels obliged not to break publicly with the homophobes who still dominate his party. One small piece of evidence to support this theory is the absence from both Dick Cheney's and Lynne Cheney's records of any known anti-gay slurs, despite their being surrounded by people who bait homosexuals on a regular basis. By all accounts, Cheney has treated his gay staffers decently and was deeply supportive of his Pentagon spokesman Pete Williams during his "outing" ordeal. There is no reason to doubt his affection for his gay daughter.
But, in some respects, this scenario is the more damning one. For, if Cheney personally respects gay people but supports policies that segregate and ostracize them for his own personal advancement, then he truly is contemptible. It's surely worse to oppose homosexual equality for opportunistic rather than for principled reasons...

In this article, Sullivan also asked:

If Dick Cheney loves and is proud of his openly lesbian daughter, why is he supporting a man who wants her to live under the threat of criminal sanction? It's no secret that Governor George W. Bush has publicly supported Texas's still-extant gays-only sodomy law, which makes private, consensual sex between gay adults a crime. Does Cheney agree with his running mate's position?

see for the entire article.

To be fair, this article was written in 2000, and Cheney does not support the anti-Gay Marriage amendment. On the other hand, he has stood by in virtual silence while his Republican colleagues in Congress and elsewhere have routinely trashed gay people while promoting this amendment.


Blogger Robert said...

You're asking for ethical conduct on the part of the man who ran Halliburton? You're expecting him to condemn public comments by gay bashers with as much vehemence as he condemned Kerry? Good luck.


3:24 PM  
Blogger Stephen Denney said...

Well, I guess I was asking in a rhetorical sense. :/)

5:19 PM  

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