As the juggernaut of our nation’s mud-stained political discourse rolls on toward Nov. 2, the nightly news is rife with forebodings of electoral fraud, the newest Swift Boat ads and other distortions. The latest newcomer to this internecine festivity is the controversy over Sen. John Kerry’s mention of the vice president’s lesbian daughter in the third presidential debate.
Asked in August about same-sex unions, Cheney said the issue was close to his family: “Lynne and I have a gay daughter — and we have enormous pride in [her].” At his debate with Sen. John Edwards, moderator Gwen Ifill brought this up, noting Cheney “used [his] family’s experience as a context for [his] remarks.” Edwards, in the evening’s only positive moment, commended the Cheneys for their love and acceptance of their daughter, Mary. Cheney thanked him for his “kind words.”
Then came Sen. Kerry’s well-intended but ill-conceived remarks in his final debate. When asked if homosexuality is volitional, Kerry’s response suggested he may be one of the scarce politicians outside the Log Cabin Republicans to see the human side of this overly politicized issue. I believe he mentioned Mary Cheney, already part of the dialogue, to put a face to the abstraction of homosexuality. Alas, bringing up another politician’s family member is always dangerous territory, and so, the negative reaction Kerry’s remark has elicited is understandable. But while many will dismiss this incident as just another link in the chain of campaign hostilities, crafted to distract us from real issues and the Bush administration’s errors, it provides insight into the Republican Party’s political distortion, hypocrisy and efforts to block gay rights.
I hasten to say that numerous conservatives, gay and straight, realize that LGBT equality is ideologically compatible with their political beliefs, as Yale College Republicans President Al Jiwa ’06 said in an admirable column last spring. But as the president’s efforts to control state laws despite the 10th Amendment demonstrate, his party has jettisoned its ideal of government noninterference. The anti-gay agenda is now officially part of the Republican platform. In order to distract their centrist base from this fact, the GOP paraded popular moderates at its convention. Now, the controversy over John Kerry’s remarks about Mary Cheney is similarly serving as a distraction. It makes Republicans with gay siblings and friends forget that immediately before the senator’s fateful comment, Bush claimed to have “proposed” a constitutional amendment to “defend” marriage by excluding from it those same siblings and friends. (In fact, the measure was introduced in the House of Representatives by Rep. Marilyn Musgrave before Bush espoused it.)
Professional Republican Sean Hannity was “appalled” and “stunned” that Mary Cheney was “attacked for political gain.” Yet this seemingly compassionate stance feels contrived in light of Hannity’s previous remarks on gay rights. On the day Bush publicly exalted relegating the job of marriage-definition to the Constitution, Hannity said to a guest on his show: “The definition of marriage is a man and a woman. And you want to just obliterate that, change that, and now make it what it never was meant to be. Should we do that with a lot of words in the dictionary?” Hannity professes concern over Mary’s well-being, but he considers her rights and pursuit of happiness — at least with respect to civil marriage — to be a lexical error, like when people say “fortuitous” when they mean “fortunate.”
Kerry’s effort to humanize homosexuality threatens the anti-gay agenda’s endeavor to discourage the public from thinking of gays as ordinary people, an endeavor that is facilitated by the alarming lack of LGBT people in public office, the mainstream media and editorial pages. In contrast to the Senator, the president’s answer to the homosexuality-as-choice question lacked the human element: “I don’t know. I just don’t know.” The origins of sexual orientation are elusive, but the fact that most LGBT people say their sexuality is natural and unconscious makes me wonder if Bush has ever actually tried to understand gay people. The stump speech about compassion and respect with which he followed his “I don’t know” answer therefore rings hollow.
Republicans need only look in the mirror to see who is waging “attack[s] for political gain” on Mary and the LGBT community. Jonathan Menitove’s ’07 recent column (“Who’s 2004’s panderer? Hint: It’s not Kerry,” 10/15) is right that Bush’s anti-gay efforts are his “most egregious instance of pandering,” serving to maintain his stronghold on religious conservatives. And while Cheney’s sincere statement two months ago about his daughter initially moved me, I later realized that it was yet another attempt to sugarcoat Republican homophobia.
The Republicans are exaggerating Kerry’s mention of Mary Cheney to vilify their opponent, just as they distorted Kerry’s “global test.” But in addition to the usual political games, many Republicans are using this to cover their own homophobia and culpability in impeding LGBT equality in order to gain votes. No wonder they’re scapegoating John Kerry.
Andrew S. Kohler is a sophomore in Ezra Stiles College.