Does Dick Cheney Favor Same Sex Marriage?

The headline in the August 25 USA Today read, “Cheney says he opposes marriage amendment.” What does this mean? Has the Vice President become an advocate for legal recognition of gay marriage?

One could conclude as much from reading Susan Page’s USA Today article and reading the press releases of some gay political groups. Indeed, Mr. Cheney is quoted as saying: “Freedom means freedom for everyone.” Steven Fisher, spokesman for the gay lobbying group the Human Rights Campaign, made Cheney’s remarks into an indictment of President Bush’s support for an amendment to the federal constitution defining marriage as requiring one each of both genders. Matt Foreman of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force gushed, “…at long last Vice President Cheney is standing up for real family values.” Is the Republican ticket about to implode over the issue?

Hardly. For one thing, Mr. Cheney did not say in his response to a questioner in Davenport, Iowa, that he favored legally recognized gay marriage. According to a transcript released by the NGLTF, he did say, “People ought to be free to enter into any kind of relationship they want to.” The truth is this freedom exists now and would not be hindered by a federal marriage amendment. However, Mr. Cheney followed that seeming endorsement of same sex marriage with another side of the legal relationship coin. “The question that comes up with respect to the issue of marriage is, what kind of official sanction or approval is going to be granted by government, if you will, to the particular relationship?”

Of course that is one of the basic questions at stake in the marriage debate. People in this free land establish all sorts of relationships but up to now, the laws have recognized the one man, one woman relationships as marriage. Vice President Cheney believes the states should continue to decide these things. I suspect a majority of people in Massachusetts long for the days when that was true.

Mr. Cheney went on to explain the rationale for President Bush’s support for the federal amendment citing the Massachusetts’ court ruling allowing marriage there. He did not disparage the president’s position but rather said, “There is the federal Defense of Marriage Act that passed in 1996 and, to date, it has not been successfully challenged in the court, and it may be sufficient to resolve the issue.” This does not sound like support for same sex marriage to me. Mr. Cheney wants the people in the states to decide for themselves but seems quite content to let the Defense of Marriage Act define marriage in the old fashioned way as it relates to federal matters.

Another way to characterize the Bush-Cheney divide over same sex marriage is that President Bush believes the way to protect marriage nationally is via the constitution and the Vice President believes DOMA and the states can do the job. Efforts to find huge differences evaporate upon closer scrutiny.

What is curious to me is the dramatic response of the gay advocacy groups to Mr. Cheney’s measured words. Looking for a chasm where there might be a crack, these groups find themselves in the odd position of lauding a person who favors the democratic process in the states as the means for traditional marriage to be defined.

I wonder if HRC’s Mr. Fisher and NGLTF’s Mr. Foreman favor the manner in which the voters of Missouri decided in favor of traditional marriage. Despite being dramatically out financed, Missouri voters overwhelmingly made man-woman marriage a part of the Missouri constitution in a recent referendum.

In some states, gay advocates are actively thwarting the political process there by which “states decide.” Citizens in 12 states have fairly collected sufficient signatures to make one man – one woman marriage the only legally recognized form. However, in Michigan and Louisiana, organizers of the signature drives are in court fighting off challenges from gay advocates who want to keep the issue off the ballot and in the courts.

I think Mr. Cheney is overly optimistic about the resilience of the Defense of Marriage Act in the face of adventuresome judges. Furthermore, I believe 50 different basic definitions of marriage in the states would eventually undermine social stability and is therefore an unacceptable position. However, my point here is not to debate his view on the best way to regulate marriage. What I am suggesting is that efforts by same sex marriage advocates to find a supporter in the Vice President are disingenuous.

If same sex marriage advocates want the states to decide, then get out of the way and let the people get on with the vote.