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Dick Cheney & Gay Marriage: Views & Support

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

Gay marriage was a major topic of debate in the early 2000s. In this lesson, we are going to see how Vice President Dick Cheney responded to this issue and explore his reasons for this response.

Dick Cheney and Gay Marriage

Dick Cheney was the 46th Vice President of the United States, holding that office from 2001-2009 under President George W. Bush. During that time, Cheney exercised a great degree of influence over American politics. He was staunch and committed to his policies…most of the time. There was one issue where Cheney was uncharacteristically passive in his political response. That issue was gay marriage. As a devoted conservative in the early 2000s, we may expect Cheney to take a firm anti-gay marriage stance. However, Cheney's personal life complicated this: his daughter was openly gay. So, how did Dick Cheney handle the issue? That's been an active debate in determining his legacy for years.

Dick Cheney
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The Conservative and the Father

Dick Cheney was a respected member of the Republican Party and symbol of conservative ideologies. The fact that his constituents expected him to behave in a manner befitting of their conservative representative would dictate his public stance on gay marriage from the beginning. Cheney actually considered running for president back in 1996. One reason he didn't was that he didn't know if he could handle the close scrutiny of his family affairs.

His daughter Mary was a lesbian, but he had voiced support for banning gay men from the military. As a conservative leader, he was expected to show that he was strong on family issues, which paradoxically meant actively supporting his daughter. It was an era when Christian-based morality was a very important part of political life, especially for the conservative right, and Cheney's position made it difficult for him to dream of achieving the oval office.

Clashing With Bush

Cheney never ran for president on his own, but he did manage to get elected as a vice president under George W. Bush. Cheney and Bush agreed on many issues, but the topic of gay marriage quickly became one of the biggest wedges in their political unity.

Gay marriage was an important issue in the early 2000s
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In 2004, President Bush supported a constitutional amendment that would ban gay marriage. That's a big deal. Amending the Constitution takes a lot of effort, and is very hard to undo. Even slavery was never mentioned in the Constitution until after the Civil War ended. The conservative right applauded the proposed amendment as protecting the sanctity of the heterosexual union and traditional family values. There was just one major conservative leader who wasn't on board: Cheney.

Cheney was an outspoken opponent of the proposed amendment. He tried to handle it, however, by sticking true to another fundamentally conservative ideology: limited government. Cheney argued that gay marriage had historically been an issue of state's rights, and that every state should be able to define the institution of marriage for itself. He claimed that it was inappropriate for the federal government to tell the states how to deal with this issue. It was also at this time that he publicly expressed a degree of personal support for gay marriage, openly talking about his daughter and stating that ''freedom means freedom for everyone''.

Legacy

The proposed constitutional amendment failed and the issue of gay marriage was left unresolved by the Bush presidency. So, how did people feel about Cheney's role, and how has he been remembered in the history of the gay rights movement?

Conservatives in general were not too happy with Cheney. They thought he should have been more supportive of the president. For many conservative voters at the time, prohibiting gay marriage was actually a higher priority than creating new jobs and fixing the economy, two of the Republicans' other main platforms.

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