Cheney Family Now at War Internally Over Gay Marriage

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Nov. 18 2013 8:56 AM

Cheney Family Now at War Internally Over Gay Marriage

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Mary Cheney, right, says it will be impossible to reconcile with her sister Liz, left, as long as Liz maintains her opposition to same-sex marriage.

Photo by Jeff Haynes/AFP/Getty Images

The last time Mary Cheney manifested as a political issue in a campaign, it ended rather well for the greater Cheney family. In two debates, John Edwards and John Kerry mentioned that one of Vice President Dick Cheney's daughters was gay. In a year when gay marriage bans were about to be approved by landslide votes, Republicans interpreted this (correctly!) as a Democratic attempt to muddy waters. 

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

"The only thing I can conclude is [Kerry] is not a good man," said Lynne Cheney, the family matriach, at a campaign stop. "I'm speaking as a mom. What a cheap and tawdry political trick."

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It was a simple position: Mary Cheney might be gay, but it had nothing to do with politics or the opposition to gay marriage that was held by the entire Bush administration. But this had an expiration date. By 2009, Dick Cheney was endorsing gay marriage in the states. By 2012, Mary Cheney was married (in D.C.) to her longtime partner, Heather Poe.

None of this would have been a problem for Liz Cheney had she run for office where she used to live, in northern Virginia. But Cheney's running for U.S. Senate in Wyoming. According to polling this year, only 42 percent of Wyoming residents approve of legal gay marriage, a number that's probably lower among the smaller pool of Republican primary voters. A third party ad has helped drive down Liz's numbers by pointing out that, in the beltway, she's been more supportive than not of marriage rights. This was what Chris Wallace took advantage of in a solid Sunday interview with the candidate.

"I love Mary very much," said Cheney, trying to change the subject from her family to the campaign ad. "I love her family very much. This is just an issue in which we disagree... I don't believe we've got to discriminate against people because of their sexual orientation. If people are in a same sex relationship and they want their partner to be able to have health benefits or be designated as a beneficiary on their life insurance, there's no reason they shouldn't do that. I also don't support amending the constitution on this issue. I do believe it's an issue that's got to be left up to the state. I do believe in the traditional definition of marriage."

Among the viewers of Fox News on Sunday: Heather Poe. She quickly posted this on Facebook.

I was watching my sister-in-law on Fox News Sunday (yes Liz, in fifteen states and the District of Columbia you are my sister-in-law) and was very disappointed to hear her say "I do believe in the traditional definition of marriage."

Liz has been a guest in our home, has spent time and shared holidays with our children, and when Mary and I got married in 2012 - she didn't hesitate to tell us how happy she was for us. 

To have her now say she doesn't support our right to marry is offensive to say the least

I can't help but wonder how Liz would feel if as she moved from state to state, she discovered that her family was protected in one but not the other. 

I always thought freedom meant freedom for EVERYONE.

Jonathan Martin called up Mary herself. Would she punt or agree with Heather? Oh, she would agree with Heather.

Mary Cheney, 44, said in a phone interview Sunday that she presumed her sister shared her father’s views on marriage, and that view was reinforced because Liz Cheney “was always very supportive” of her relationship with Ms. Poe and the couple’s two children. She learned otherwise in August when Liz Cheney declared, shortly after announcing her Senate candidacy, that she was opposed to same-sex marriage rights. Mary Cheney said it is now “impossible” for the sisters to reconcile as long as Liz Cheney maintains that position.
“What amazes me is that she says she’s running to be a new generation of leader,” Mary Cheney said, citing her 47-year-old sister’s slogan in her campaign against Mr. Enzi, 69. “I’m not sure how sticking to the positions of the last 20 or 30 years is the best way to do that.”

Liz Cheney's position is trickier than Dick Cheney's was in 2004. Back then gay marriage was a fringe enough issue (check the margins of those marriage ban ballot measures) that the vice president could get away with being hypocritical. Liz Cheney affected an early distance from the issue, one that she'd probably never legislate on if she were in the Senate, anyway. And it doesn't work for her. Her sister hasn't signed off on this whole "throw me under the bus" policy; Cheney can hardly affect a new, outraged position without looking like she flip-flopped on her sister.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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