2 min

Something about Mary

As our neighbours down south head to the ballot box on Tue, Nov 2 to choose their president, a silent figure sits at the centre.

Mary Cheney is a lesbian. Mary Cheney works behind the scenes on the Republican campaign. Mary Cheney is the daughter of George W Bush’s VP Dick Cheney. These three facts give her great power over whether Bush will be able to extend his stay in the White House.

It’s not so much what she says – in fact she says almost nothing in public, much to the dismay of queer activists in the US – but what is said about her that matters. In an election where centre and centre-right voters must decide whether Democrat John Kerry is too far left to replace their present presidential dingbat, Mary has become a key political litmus test.

Which is why the Oct 13 presidential debate could very well go down in history as Marygate. Asked if he believes homosexuality is a choice, Kerry answered: “We’re all God’s children. And I think if you were to talk to Dick Cheney’s daughter, who is a lesbian, she would tell you that she’s being who she was. She’s being who she was born as. I think if you talk to anybody, it’s not a choice.”

Kerry’s statement hurt his campaign in several ways.

• Uniformed voters could see Kerry as outing Mary against her will

• For centre-right “don’t ask, don’t tell” voters, the fact that Kerry said “lesbian” is a dirty thing, dirtier perhaps than the Cheneys raising one. Kerry can be seen as throwing dirt at his opponent, exploiting a Cheney family “problem” for political purposes

• For more progressive voters, Cheney’s having a lesbian daughter might make them think more warmly of Cheney. The Republicans have a high-profile lesbian on their side, so they can’t be that bad, can they?

• Kerry paused for a millisecond before saying the word “lesbian.” If he’s so comfortable with the issue, why did he hesitate?

• Why is Kerry talking about other people’s families when his own policy of supporting civil rights but not marriage rights for gay and lesbian people is so two-faced?

Obviously, any sane pro-gay voter will back Kerry. But it’s the ambivalent middle ground that Kerry might have turned off.

Sadly, a USA Today/CNN/Gallup poll conducted right after the debate showed Bush’s numbers surging (52 percent of likely voters compared to Kerry’s 44 percent).

Mary might be responsible for getting her father back into office just by her existence. I hope the Republicans are paying her well to keep quiet.