While activists criticize the Vice President’s lesbian daugther Mary for not publicly lobbying for gay rights, this “woman who once preferred to fly under the radar” has probably done more than any of them to promote social acceptance of gay people in American civil society. While they work to change laws — or attack Republicans — Mary has lived her life quietly, but openly, in full view of her father’s conservative associates and political allies.
By not drawing attention to her sexuality, but attending public events, including the president’s victory speech after the 2004 election and his inauguration, together with her partner Heather Poe, she shows how normal their relationship is. Instead of seeing an angry activist criticizing their actions, conservatives see a gracious and intelligent woman devoted to that same-sex life partner. As they see this woman embrace her family, they began to understand that same-sex couples do not threaten family values.
If you don’t believe that such experiences change people’s attitudes, then look at this fact. The Vice President has, almost never*, disagreed with President Bush publicly over important policy matters. Yet, both he and his wife have made clear, on more than one occasion, that they disagree with the president on a constitutional amendment defining marriage.
If HRC’s Joe Solmonese really wants to defeat this pernicious proposal, instead of trying to score points with the political left, he would reference the Vice President’s opposition in every public statement he makes on the current debate.
Conservatives love the Vice President. Today, on the Al Rantel Show, über-conservative Ann Coulter said she liked the idea of a President Cheney. If his goal is to defeat the amendment, what better way to sway its conservative supporters than to remind them of this respected conservative’s opposition.
It is because this man so deeply loves his daughter that he understands how damaging the amendment could be. It is unfortunate that so many on the left have been using the publicity surrounding the release of Mary Cheney’s book to fault the Vice President’s daughter for missed opportunities and “cowardice.” But, as they rant on and on, suggesting that she somehow failed the community because she was silent when the House and Senate voted in 2004 on a constitutional amendment, they should note that the amendment failed to clear either House — when it needs a two-thirds majority in both to be sent to the states.
She didn’t need to come out publicly to stop the most unfortunate piece of legislation on gay issues in the president’s first term.
Perhaps some of the Republicans who opposed the bill were swayed by the Vice President’s oppostion — or their contact with his daughter.
Whiile I would like to think that her public opposition to state referenda (on laws defining marriage) would have dampened enthusiam for them, even in the bluest states, such initiatives passed by comfortable margins. I doubt her coming out would have changed the results in any of those states.
Some gay activists, however, do get the significance of her coming out. In an Op-Ed in the Washington Post (despite some anti-Republican boilerplate) Elizabeth Birch, a predecessor of Solomonese at HRC, and her partner Hilary Rosen write, “Mary’s presence on the national stage — the daughter of the vice president of the United States discussing issues related to our lives — is most welcome and has the potential to be a transforming moment for all Americans.” In a release last week, Log Cabin applauded her for “sharing her personal story” with the nation.
Indeed, it by sharing her personal story that Mary will do the most to help her fellow lesbian and gay Americans. As Robbie noted, in her Primetime Live interview with Diane Sawyer, Vice President’s daughter came across as “poised and likeable.” With such a face to define our community, many social conservatives are likely to start rethinking their attitudes towards gay people.
I disagree with many gay activists that the way to promote social acceptance and “basic fairness” for gay people is through legislative action and court decision. I believe that while we need to repeal a few laws (e.g,. Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell) and enact others recognizing same-sex unions, we don’t need much legislation to make it easier for gay and lesbian citizens in American civil society. Things are improving for gay and lesbian Americans across the nation — even in “red” states which lack non-discrimination legislation.
Things have changed because people like Mary have been living their lives openly as gay and lesbian citizens. And by the media showing the “ordinariness” of such lives. It’s one reason I left Washington to try to make it in Hollywood, hoping to do (what is now) increasingly being done — to promote positive portrayals of gay people in the popular media.
I believe that Mary has done more for gay people than most gay activists because they have focused too much on changing laws while she has changed minds. By living quietly as a gay woman without hiding her sexuality from her father’s conservative associates, individuals who might otherwise be unfavorably disposed to gay people, she has exposed them to the reality of what they have called “the homosexual lifestyle.”
And opening such minds is where the real battle lies.
-Dan (AKA GayPatriotWest): GayPatriotWest@aol.com
*Indeed, I can’t find a single example of their public disagreement since then-Governor Bush tapped Cheney to be his running mate.
ADDENDUM. This post changed in the writing. So, I’ll have to do a few more posts to say some of the things I had wanted to say here. I’ve read about half of Mary’s book and am enjoying it very much. In subsequent pieces, I will write about the book and take issue with Birch and Rosen’s suggestion that Mary’s family has “perpetrated” wrongs “on the gay and lesbian community.” I will look at the Vice President’s relationship with his daughter, show what it says about the man. I will show how he has helped our community in ways most activists refuse to acknowledge, largely because of Cheney’s association with President Bush — and his conservative views.