Sisters Liz and Mary Cheney have been having a very public feud over marriage equality, and some observers, even one of the leading opponents of equal marriage rights, are wondering if it’s maybe just a little bit staged.
“The Cheney family is a very close family, and I don’t believe they would have this spat in public, except for the fact that it’s good for both of the sisters,” marriage equality foe Maggie Gallagher said last week on The Diane Rehm Show, a talk show originating in Washington, D.C., and carried on public radio stations nationwide. “It gives Mary a chance to air her deeply held, passionate moral convictions and advance the ball for gay marriage. “And it helps Liz Cheney get elected senator in the state of Wyoming.”
It may not actually help her that much; she’s running against incumbent Mike Enzi in the Republican primary for U.S. Senate from that state, and she trails him badly in polls. But Gallagher said ads asserting that Liz Cheney is insufficiently opposed to marriage equality made likely primary voters view her less favorably than before, so perhaps that motivated her to emphasize her opposition.
The sisters are the daughters of former vice president Dick Cheney; Mary is lesbian and married to a woman, while Liz reasserted her opposition to marriage equality in a recent appearance on Fox News Sunday. Mary and her wife, Heather Poe, responded angrily on Facebook.
“Call me a skeptic, but somehow … the Cheney family’s been in the public eye a long time, and I don’t doubt that they have the emotions that they’re saying,” said Gallagher, the founder of the antigay National Organization for Marriage who is now a senior fellow with another conservative group, the American Principles Project. “I’m not saying they’re not telling the truth, but I don’t think the sisters would have done this, except that it’s kind of a win-win for the family as a whole.”
Jonathan Rauch of the Brookings Institution, a liberal think tank, expressed a similar opinion on the segment, which focused on evolving attitudes toward marriage equality — but he emphasized that those attitudes are indeed changing, among Republicans as well as Democrats. “As a political matter, it’s plausible that there is a little bit of orchestration going on, but I still think the broader point is true, that what we’re seeing here is a reflection of the fact that 10 years ago same-sex marriage was an issue that united Republicans and divided Democrats,” he said. “And Democrats had to run away from it. Ten years on, today, it’s an issue that unites Democrats and divides Republicans, and Republicans are running away from it.”
Gallagher downplayed the idea that there is any political liability in opposing marriage equality. “I don’t think there’s a large number of voters who are voting on gay marriage in either direction, frankly,” she said. “I think the problem that Republican elites perceive, the consulting class perceives, is that if you oppose gay marriage, the press will hound you on it. You’ll have to talk about that, and it will interfere with getting your other messages out.”
Gallagher also took the opportunity to make her usual, unfounded assertion that letting same-sex couples marry will be harmful to children. “The historic understanding of marriage is that it’s rooted in the reality we need to bring together male and female, mother and father, to make and raise the next generation,” she said. “And as we disconnect marriage from that idea, which is happening broadly, not just because of gay marriage, but as we disconnect marriage and children and instead focus on marriage as a kind of romantic, intimate, loving, caretaking relationship for adults, I think we’re going to hurt a lot of children.”
Rauch responded, “What she says is a prediction which has turned out to be false, which is that if you admit gay couples into marriage, straight couples will not get married or get divorced more or abandon their kids or break up their families. And that has proved to be incorrect. The biggest problem, I think, that opponents to gay marriage are having isn’t politics or demographics. It’s that they’ve never been able to explain in a plausible way why allowing gay couples to marry will harm straight marriages.”
Read a transcript of the entire conversation here.