There is a long and growing list of people – and specifically Republicans — who are said to be to the left of President Obama on gay marriage. Our high-profile GOP supporters include Laura Bush, Elizabeth Hasselbeck and, most recently, freshly-out Ken Mehlman.
But the grandest of the Party’s Old Grandees is, of course, Dick Cheney, whose support for same-sex marriage is the most valuable scalp gay marriage supporters have been able to secure. He’s even been characterized as “more progressive” on this issue than Obama.
Let’s get a grip. I won’t argue that Obama’s well-documented flips and flops, ducks, weaves, hedges, caveats, little white lies, obfuscations and desperate dives underneath the desk in the Oval Office are any profile in courage. Despite the fact that I think he will still be one of our finest presidents and may yet show some spine on real equality, what we’ve gotten from him so far is a savvy exhibition of three card monte. While we know he can demonstrate leadership on issues he finds compelling, on gay equality he is more sheep than shepherd.
But Cheney hasn’t exactly been our Martin Luther King. The pinnacle of his oratory has been this: “I think freedom means freedom for everyone.” To my knowledge, he has never yet publicly used the phrase “same-sex marriage,” or even “civil unions.” Here’s as close to explicit as he has ever gotten:
I do believe that historically the way marriage has been regulated is at the state level. It has always been a state issue and I think that is the way it ought to be handled, on a state-by-state basis. … But I don’t have any problem with that. People ought to get a shot at that.
Now I won’t look this gift horse in the mouth, but it’s not exactly support for equality – it’s a plea for state’s rights. And that would appear to include the right for states to give same-sex couples nothing.
Perhaps I’m wrong about that, but from Dick Cheney’s extremely rare public utterances, I can’t find any reason to believe he would have as little problem – i.e. “no problem” — with same-sex couples having no rights as he would with them having full equality.
But he can clarify that. Specifically, he could put his money where is mouth is, and join Mehlman, Ted Olson, and so many other leading national Republicans at the AFER fundraiser (even Mary will be there). Or he could actually say something clearly: “I support same-sex marriage” would be nice, but I’d even take something like, “Both of my daughters deserve the same respect and rights under the law, and my party ought to make a commitment to that fundamental principle.”
At that point, I would be willing to put him beside Obama and find Obama wanting. But for the present, the two are about even in substanceless avoidance; Cheney avoids the issue by saying too little, while Obama avoids the issue by saying too much.