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A Public Display of Family Values 

A Public Display of Family Values 


OPINION: Last week's rapture of love and support for Republican vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin and her unwed, pregnant daughter was a a far cry from the attention shown to Mary Cheney, lesbian daughter of Vice President Dick Cheney, when she hit the packed convention four years ago with her partner, Heather Poe.

Right: Front, center, and pregnant -- Bristol and Levi

Last week's rapture of love and support for Republican vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin and her unwed, pregnant daughter was a rather uplifting spectacle.

That's right: Ignore the eye-rolling cynics. The compassion and public face do indeed underscore how support and dignity are necessary values for families to embrace when they are all-too-often beset by overwhelming life changes.

That said, odds are the support is not entirely unconditional and is rendered depending on moral circumstance.

When the world learned that 17-year-old Bristol was expecting, her camera-ready, proud family was praised by the GOP at large as well as numerous conservative organizations that issued press releases and public statements commending them for their "pro-family values" (in the words of Focus on the Family). The dedication to "sanctity of life" trumped the sin of premarital sex (perhaps the fact that the age of consent is 16 in Alaska also helped overshadow the transgression).

And despite numerous suggestions that the issue was a "private" matter, when mom-to-be Bristol arrived at a Twin Cities airport with freshly scrubbed baby daddy Levi Johnston in tow, they were very publicly greeted by presidential nominee John McCain, who offered warm embraces as a phalanx of cameras captured the event.

Similarly, after Senator McCain wrapped up his acceptance speech Thursday night at St. Paul's Xcel Energy Center, he was joined onstage by his wife, Cindy, and their extended kin, as well as Governor Palin and her family, which included -- you guessed it -- fiance Levi.

Right: Scrapbooks full of me in the background -- the Cheney family

The players exhibited little hesitation to trot the mom-to-be and baby daddy onto the tarmac and into the convention hall for the press and the world. But one has to wonder how elusive the support and commitment to visibility would be under a different set of circumstances.

What if, instead, it had instead been revealed that Governor Palin's daughter is lesbian and perhaps has a same-sex partner?

I'm curious whether Senator McCain would have greeted said partner upon arrival at Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport, as he did Levi. Would Governor Palin's lesbian offspring (or, probably worse, gay son) and partner have been welcomed onstage with the family?

If the march of history is any indication, one could easily guess no.

Contrast last week's goings-on to the turn of events at the 2004 Republican National Convention. Mary Cheney, lesbian daughter of Vice President Dick Cheney, hit the packed convention with her partner, Heather Poe. But they were relegated to assigned seating in the stands after both onstage appearances by the vice president -- all while other family members swarmed the stage and the spotlight in celebration of his nomination.

An optimist would say, hey, give them a break. Perhaps they learned a philosophical lesson since both Mary and Heather did join veep Cheney onstage about a month later following a televised debate between Cheney and opponent John Edwards.

Right: Deval Patrick, proud pop

And the debate audience was even more sizable -- more than 43 million viewers, compared to McCain's nearly 39 million viewers last week. Some would consider the duo's visibility there a notch on the belt of progress; despite the RNC's antigay platform, perhaps acceptance is starting to permeate the party, slowly but surely.

But a pessimist today could point to Governor Palin's views regarding LGBT issues, including her opposition to both gay marriage and same-sex spousal benefits, for a sense of how visible gay children would be. Or a barometer could be Governor Palin's sanctuary of choice -- Wasilla Bible Church, which embraces the "ex-gay" theology offered by Focus on the Family. Perhaps that's an indicator that LGBT family members would be confined to the bleachers or, more likely, the backstage green room -- if they survive "reparative therapy" sessions first, of course.

Clearly there's no way to know what levels of familial and political tolerance would have played out under gay-tinged circumstances. But perhaps future candidates in that situation could take a page from the family scrapbook of Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick and his newly out and proud 18-year-old daughter, Katherine. It likely includes some endearing newspaper clippings from the Boston Pride Parade in June, during which they marched together in a sort of unified coming-out.

The Patricks' very public "family values" reflect the best attributes involved in building support and dignity, much like those exhibited by both the Palins and the McCains last week.

But there's also a difference between unconditional love and conditional support.

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Eric Hegedus