Mary Cheney Plays "Where's Waldo?" at Convention

After Vice President Dick Cheney attacked Sen. John Kerry in a speech at the Republican National Convention Wednesday night, the extended Cheney family walked onstage afterward (pictured)--except for lesbian daughter Mary and her partner.

Vice President Dick Cheney's daughter may be the only out lesbian at the Republican National Convention being held in New York this week. Yet no matter how out she is--and no matter how many times her family sends mixed messages about gay equality--she and her partner, Heather Poe, have tried their best to blend into the crowd at Madison Square Garden.

Mary Cheney (left) chats with partner Heather Poe during the Republican National Convention in New York City on September 1.

On Wednesday night, Dick Cheney did not mention either of his daughters during his speech. Instead he unleashed a stinging attack on Sen. John Kerry, ridiculing him as a politician who has made a career out of changing his mind. At the end of his speech he was joined onstage by his wife, Lynne, and his straight daughter, Elizabeth, and her husband and children. Mary, 35, who is her father's top campaign aide, was not in view of the television cameras. Instead she was sitting in the vice-presidential box with her partner, likely trying to deflect criticism from conservatives within her own party who believe her orientation is an abomination. Other delegates took a more politically correct approach. "Sometimes people think that we're ogres," Indiana delegate Jude Levine told the Los Angeles Times.

Mary Cheney has refused to grant any media interviews. She and Poe share a house near Denver.

Also on Wednesday, Rick Santorum, the Pennsylvania senator who has helped to lead the charge to ban gay marriages, preached love during his convention speech. He urged Americans to strengthen families by making sure children have a mother and a father. "The key to a richer culture is a strong family, and the key to a strong family are strong marriages," Santorum said. "That means mothers and fathers doing what they've been doing so well for centuries--giving love and hope to their children."

Critics called Santorum an "extremist" and compared him to conservative commentator Pat Buchanan, whose 1992 speech about a cultural war turned that convention to the right. In July, Santorum pushed the Senate to approve a constitutional ban on same-sex marriages by calling the "defense" of heterosexual marriages "the ultimate homeland security." The proposed ban failed to pass the Senate.

Interrupted several times by lusty cheers from the Pennsylvania delegation, Santorum spoke for six minutes, warmly recounting the story of his Italian immigrant ancestors to underscore economic struggles being faced by welfare recipients. Santorum helped write the landmark 1996 welfare reform law and has hired eight welfare recipients to work in his government offices. But Santorum said too many mothers on welfare end up trying to raise their children without a father--something he said President Bush's faith-based social programs are trying to change. "We now ask, Would you like some help in building that relationship?" Santorum said. "And if the mother and the father says yes, we pay for marriage counseling with a family therapist or a pastor, rabbi, imam, or priest."

Even before his speech, critics were already taking aim at Santorum, who passionately opposes gay rights and abortion rights. Santorum "has inherited the extremist mantle of Pat Buchanan," said Gloria Feldt, president of the reproductive-rights group Planned Parenthood Action Fund. "The allegations of 'compassion' presented tonight are false," Feldt said. "Don't believe the hype."



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