Americans have come to expect the family members of politicians to stand by in silence — to downplay their own views, support their relative’s candidacy unquestioningly, and smile approvingly no matter what the candidate might say or do. The limits of such acquiescence became clear this weekend, as a disagreement within the Cheney family boiled over on Facebook.
Liz Cheney, the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, is running in the Republican primary for the US Senate in Wyoming. She has sought to defeat GOP incumbent Mike Enzi by running to his right. As super PACs have attacked her for taking an insufficiently tough line against same-sex marriage, Liz Cheney has appeared to harden her stance on the issue. Her most recent comments, on “Fox News Sunday,” outraged Cheney’s sister, Mary, and her wife, Heather Poe. “Liz has been a guest in our home,” Poe shot back on her Facebook page, “has spent time and shared holidays with our children, and when Mary and I got married in 2012 — she didn’t hesitate to tell us how happy she was for us.”
Previously, the Cheney family had, in its own way, played a role in bringing support for same-sex marriage into the political mainstream. Nearly a decade ago, amid a highly competitive presidential race, Dick Cheney made it clear that his view on marriage rights differed from President Bush’s, and that he favored some form of legal recognition for same-sex couples. There was little evidence conservative voters held that position against him. And there’s every reason to think that, had Liz Cheney taken the same position today in a Western state with a libertarian bent, actual voters would give her a more respectful hearing than conservative super PACs might.
This being politics, there have been suggestions from critics on the left that the Cheney sisters are faking a disagreement to draw more attention to Liz’s flagging Senate campaign. That seems unlikely; the postings from Poe and Mary Cheney sound as if they were written out of genuine disappointment and indignation. Instead, the episode underscores how the greatest force for acceptance for gay couples has been speaking up, rather than smiling and saying nothing.