Politics & Policy

So Mary’S Gay?

What Kerry said, what the Cheneys said, and what we should think.

This will require magnanimity, savoir faire, and intense concentration. The objective: to opine on whether it was correct for Senator Kerry to make references to Mary Cheney as a lesbian.

The pros hold that an objective of the Democratic presidential challenger is inclusivity, and they make the point that there is nothing in the least invidious in calling attention to Ms. Cheney’s lesbianism.

Senator Kerry was commenting on the referee’s question, previously answered by President Bush, whether to be gay is a matter of choice, or a matter of biological determination. Bush had said he couldn’t give the final answer to this. Kerry said: All you need to reflect upon is that the daughter of your running mate is herself gay and isn’t for that reason in the least thought less of by her parents, or by me, or by the voting public.

Mr. Bush said nothing more, and there were no indications, on leavetaking, that he had been offended by the use of Ms. Cheney’s lesbianism to make a political point.

But that was not at all the reaction of dad and mom. Vice President Cheney said that Kerry’s remark about his daughter showed that the senator was “a man who will say and do anything in order to get elected.” He added that his indignation was not just that of a father, indeed a “pretty angry father,” but that of “a citizen.”

Mrs. Lynne Cheney — and she is a highbrow with a highbrow’s attention to the use of words — said that the episode had given her a chance to take the full measure of candidate Kerry. “And the only thing I could conclude is this is not a good man. This is not a good man. And, of course, I am speaking as a mom and a pretty indignant mom. This is not a good man. What a cheap and tawdry political trick.”

It is not in question that Mary Cheney’s gayness had already become a part of the cast of characters in the political play. Senator Kerry was in no sense “outing” someone who had hidden her sexual impulses. So that the question narrowed to whether what was said was an expression of magnanimity and inclusiveness, or whether it was a bid for votes from the bigoted.

This last interpretation of it was taken by an evangelical Christian politician, Gary Bauer, who ran for the presidency four years ago. He reasoned as follows: that traditional-values voters would react to the public reference as to an animadversion against the Bush ticket, and that by saying what he had said, Kerry could reasonably hope “to knock l or 2 percent off in some rural areas by causing people to turn on the president.” This view holds that Kerry was in fact trading on bigotry. That position is of course irreconcilable with the position that Mr. Cheney has profited politically from publicizing his daughter’s gayness — that he has, in effect, said to the gay community: Look, my own beloved daughter is a member of the Cheney family, and a member also of the gay community. You can hardly suspect in the GOP ticket prejudice against gays, when you see that we have one in the family, whom we cherish?

Ah then, but another point is being made. It is that Cheney and Bush diverge in their view of the gay-lesbian questions. Early in the campaign, Cheney said that he believed any gay should have the identical rights of non-gays. Bush travels in that direction, but balks at marriage, which he holds to be a social institution devised to unite man and woman. Bush has therefore backed a constitutional amendment that would remove from the courts any authority to change that around by superimposing rights-language on the law, as has been done in Massachusetts and elsewhere, resulting in marriage ceremonies of man and man, and woman and woman.

The episode will put such questions on faster tracks than those they have been moving on. We will learn whether there are voters who don’t like the idea of a lesbian woman as a part of the royal family. We will learn whether Mary Cheney, who is working for the election of her father, will emerge as a great expediter of the constitutional amendment — whether she will emerge as the lady who called out that the rights she has are sufficient to guard the freedoms identified with the GOP ticket.

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