The Administration's Families and Gay Rights
It's a meaningless gesture. The point is to try and portray the President as someone who is not an ideologue, but is open to different points of view and came to the conclusion he came to through reasoned dialogue with those close to him. So if he takes an opposing position to yours, he still respects you, so you still have a chance to persuade him on future issues. But that's not true. Positions on the big issues like gay marriage are politically easy choices. Politicians don't debate the right thing to do in your inner circle, they decide themselves -- and pretty easily too -- the politically necessary thing to do. Bush can't be pro-gay. Gays are not part of his base. Homophobes are. End of story.
Meanwhile, there's the special case of Mary Cheney, the daughter of Vice President Cheney, who is a lesbian. She was out to her family and out at work (she did gay and lesbian outreach for Coors) prior to 2000. But she stayed utterly silent during both the 2000 and 2004 campaigns about her sexual orientation, as well as during the debate in 2004 over the anti-gay Federal Marriage Amendment. Now she's come out publicly as part of her book tour for her new book, Now It's My Turn. In my opinion, coming out at whatever time she wants is her prerogative.
Before I continue, here's my take on outing. Coming out is a difficult personal process, and people should be allowed to do it on their own time. The fact that the coming out process is so painful is something we should be trying to change, not take advantage of. That's a big part of what gay rights is about. Gays know better than anyone how to wield that pain as a weapon, but it can be a corrupting influence on our souls to do so. It's like the nuclear weapon of gay rights politics, sometimes necessary, but always terrible.
That said, I think it's perfectly reasonable, and even important, to point out active hypocrisy. When a public figure is closeted, but condemns gays and works to limit their rights, that's hypocritical and the public should know. And when a closeted public figure fails to help when they could, that's regrettable and even maddening. But I'm not sure it rises to the level of hypocrisy where outing is the answer.
The harrying of Mary Cheney on her silence is similar, though not exactly equivalent, in my mind. The progressive blogosphere has been pretty uniformly sour on Mary Cheney, and for good reason. She supports an abysmal adminstration and has not been out front on gay rights even though by virtue of her relationship to the Vice President of the United States, she could be a very effective spokesperson, like, for example, Candice Gingrich, sister of former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. But Newt and Candice Gingrich were not on particularly good terms. The Cheneys are. I imagine the Cheney's feelings on all of this must be complicated.
Of course, I don't know anything about this for sure, but I'm supposing Mr. and Mrs. Cheney were supportive when Mary came out to them. But they're Republicans. So perhaps they're personally good on that single issue, but not particularly active about it because of their ambitions to exercise power in the Republican party. Perhaps Mary Cheney feels like she can't distance herself from her parents publicly without hurting them. And Cheney feels the same way about Bush, a man who he seems to agree with most of the time. I'm not trying to excuse their positions at all here, just to understand.
What I read into the situation is that Vice President Cheney, behind the scenes, is not supportive of the Federal Marriage Amendment, but is unwilling to break publicly with the President over it. What do you do with a situation like this? Sometimes, officials will be privately helpful while being publicly against you. Now there are plenty of reasons for a good progressive to dislike Vice President Cheney, but active opposition to gay rights really isn't one of them. I mean Cheney isn't being publicly helpful, but he isn't out there demanding an end to gay adoption either.
But on the other hand, he and his daughter worked to strengthen and re-elect an administration that, overall, is anti-gay. For many people that's enough to harass someone like Mary Cheney. After all, in supporting an anti-gay adminstration, she is working against gay rights. I don't really have any argument against that, except to say that people aren't always good or evil, progressive or conservative, right or wrong, but are often somewhere in between.
Sure, Mary Cheney had her chance in 2004 to speak out against the Federal Marriage Amendment and didn't. But now she's speaking. And there will be another FMA debate this summer. So while I'm willing to give her another chance (to see what she does this summer), I also can't find fault with those who can't.
One other thing: the 2004 debates. Here's what happened. John Edwards brought up Mary's sexual orientation in the Vice Presidential debate. It was topical. He was talking to Vice President Cheney about gay rights. It may have been a cynical attempt to bring attention to Mary, and cast doubt for the religious right on the Vice President's reliability on social issues. Or even to convince homophobes not to vote for Bush because Cheney had a gay daughter and still loved her. But the Bush administration was much worse in pandering to the homophobes by promising to cynically use the constitution to permanently abridge the rights of gays. And it was incredibly elitist of the media to consider the Cheneys' hurt feelings ahead of the rights of every other gay American.
Nonetheless, it didn't go over well when Edwards did it. I was aware of that, and I'm just this guy, you know? Saturday Night Live made fun of it, and the news media took notice. At that point, Kerry should have known it was now a radioactive topic. But he still mentioned it in the very same way as Edwards during the third Presidential debate, even though he was debating Bush and not Cheney. And of course the media used the story to turn a Kerry debate victory into a Bush debate victory. Kerry was being foolish there. And it may have cost him the election.
Anyway, that's my take on it. I'll keep an ear out for Mary Cheney this summer. I'll probably be disappointed, but maybe, just possibly, not.