For Cheneys, politics gets personal

  • 18 November 2013
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Dick Cheney and his daughter Liz at a 2011 speaking engagement.
Image caption Liz Cheney's stand against gay marriage has created a rift in her family

The ongoing media feud between former Vice-President Dick Cheney's daughters, Liz and Mary, has bloggers writing about politics, family and the fault lines in the Republican Party over gay marriage.

Liz Cheney is running for the US Senate in Wyoming, a conservative state whose Republican primary electorate is solidly against gay marriage. On Sunday Ms Cheney once again affirmed that she believed in a "traditional definition of marriage".

This has led to a very public conflict with her sister, Mary, and her spouse, Heather Poe.

There once was a time in the not so distant past when Republicans used the issue of gay marriage to turn out their base on election day. Conservative proponents of granting marriage rights only to opposite-sex couples unabashedly campaigned on the issue and backed state-level constitutional amendments to prevent same-sex marriages.

In his blog the Dish, Andrew Sullivan describes a 2004 attempt to convince George W Bush presidential strategist Karl Rove to back away from using gay marriage as a political wedge issue:

Rove simply told me that there were many more Christianists than homos, and that mathematical reality dwarfed any arguments, however meritorious. It wasn't the first time I had seen utter cynicism on this issue in high places - it was hard to beat the Clintons for that. But the baldness of the cynicism - the reflexive refusal even to address the actual rights and wrongs of the matter - was never better expressed than by Rove.

Over the last few years, that electoral calculus has changed - and nowhere has it been more evident than in the Cheney family's very public drama, where political ambitions have clashed with the very personal reality of gay marriage.

"It's become a tired but true trope for the LGBT rights movement: As more people come out of the closet, the country increasingly tolerates different sexual orientations and identities," writes Patrick Caldwell for Mother Jones. "It's easy to casually gay bash when you've never met someone who isn't straight. It's much harder - and socially unacceptable - when you have to sit across from your niece and her girlfriend at Thanksgiving dinner."

Now, writes Garance Franke-Ruta in the Atlantic, it is Liz Cheney whose views on homosexuality set her apart from the rest of the Cheney clan:

Every family has its black sheep, the opinionated outlier who is out of sync with the values of the others. Once upon a time that person might have been the gay or lesbian child. Times have changed, though, and today the black sheep can also be the family member who insists her lesbian sibling should be deprived of rights to which she is legally entitled.

The controversy has conservatives grappling with how to oppose gay marriage while also supporting friends and family members who are gay. Writes Rod Dreher for the American Conservative:

It's an area fraught with complexity and tension. It's easy to say, "It's our way or the highway," because that has the advantage of moral clarity. But it's also inhuman. On the other hand, it's also inhuman for conservative family members to expect gay family members to accept scorn and rejection as the cost for being a member of the family.

There has been a proven formula over the past few years for pulling an upset win in a Republican Senate primary: embrace the grass-roots Tea Party base and run hard to the right. Ms Cheney has tried to follow a similar strategy, attacking incumbent Senator Mike Enzi for insufficiently conservative positions on Internet taxes, coal regulation, federal education standards and healthcare reform.

Now, however, her campaign will likely be best known for gay marriage and family acrimony.

The latest polls show Ms Cheney still has long odds in her quest to win a Senate seat. According to Jim Newell in Salon, this controversy could help Ms Cheney appear more dedicated to her political beliefs by showing she is willing to face off against her own family.

He writes: "This could be the best thing that ever happened to Liz Cheney - assuming she values a US Senate seat over a speaking relationship with her own sister, which seems like a relatively safe assumption."