Mary and Mary: still contrary: the actions by Mary Cheney and former Dick Cheney adviser Mary Matalin suggest gay issues remain a hot potato in the GOP. (Politics).
But by June the two women, who are friends and confidantes, were suddenly looking a lot less like saviors. Cheney abruptly resigned from the board of a prominent gay rights group, the Republican Unity Coalition, offering no public reason for her departure. Matalin, who has supported a variety of gay causes, defended U.S. senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania after he compared homosexuality to bestiality, polygamy, and incest in a discussion of sodomy laws.
Santorum is a "wonderful, caring, loving man" and a "great senator," Matalin said during a May 11 guest appearance on NBC's Meet the Press. She also attacked the RUC, saying it had "raised the tolerance bar" by refusing to grant Santorum the right to express his religious convictions. Charles Francis, the coalition's founder and chairman, declined to comment on Matalin's remarks, but one colleague described him as "extremely upset" by her apparent about-face. Matalin's husband, Democratic operative and TV commentator James Carville, who appeared with her on Meet the Press, dismissed her arguments as "cockamamy."
Because the incidents came shortly after the Santorum dustup--and pro-gay comments by Republican National Committee chairman Marc Racicot that angered the religions right--some gay activists speculate that Cheney and Matalin were responding to White House pressure to rein in pro-gay activity in the party. Whatever the case, there was no avoiding the damage the episodes have had on President Bush's attempt to put a more compassionate face on the party's relationship with gays and lesbians.
"Gay Republicans and pro-gay Republicans are in a really tight bind," says Hastings Wyman, editor of the biweekly Southern Political Report. "They have to either play along with the White House line or abandon ship, and neither Mary Cheney nor Mary Matalin, with their ties to Dick Cheney, are in a position to do that. So Mary [Cheney] has apparently decided to pull back, while Mary Matalin is reversing course a little bit. I think the GOP effort to draw more gay votes is stalling."
Matalin, who told The Advocate in 2000 that "to discriminate or even be judgmental about gays is plain wrong," insists that her views have not changed. People misinterpreted her comments on Meet the Press, says Matalin, who left the Administration in December. "I remain a strong gay rights supporter," she says. "What I said was that we should respect the religious views of those who do not agree with us. I do not support sodomy laws. But I do object to the lack of tolerance for religious views, and I don't think that Santorum is one of the loonies. What we have to do is stop the idiocy on all sides."
For Mary Cheney, the decision to sever ties with the RUC is less shocking. The former liaison to gays and lesbians for the Coors Brewing Co. of Golden, Colo., has steadfastly sought to avoid the limelight and protect her privacy since her father took office.
"Mary will probably never be able to satisfy the standards of gay people by using her family ties for the betterment of the gay community," says Bob Witeck, a Washington, D.C., gay businessman and friend of Mary Cheney's. "None of us can imagine how hard it would be to find ourselves between our family and our community. It would cause anyone tremendous heartache."
Witeck notes that clamping down on dissenting relatives is a White House tradition stretching back at least to the Jimmy Carter era: "It would take a particularly self-confident administration to not mind if a family member spoke out in opposition on any issue, and this administration has elevated the art of discipline to a whole new level."
But that explanation doesn't fly with everyone. In a May column published in the Washington Blade, commentator Michael Alvear wrote that by refusing to speak out against Santorum, Mary Cheney had become complicit with antigay activists. The headline of the column read in part: IF SILENCE = DEATH, THEN MARY CHENEY IS THE GRIM REAPER.
This ground-shift among gay Republicans is affecting more than the RUC. On May 28, David Greer resigned his post as one of only three Republicans on the board of governors of the Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest gay activist group. Citing HRC's participation in a group of liberal organizations working to unseat Bush, Greer wrote in an E-mail to HRC: "I remain committed to the idea that a bipartisan organization cannot and should not be seen leading the effort to oppose President Bush when they are trying to build bridges with the Republican Party."
HRC spokesman David Smith insists Greer is mistaken. "It is our wish that David would reconsider," Smith says. "We have made no decision regarding any endorsement for 2004. We continue to maintain a bipartisan stance, though it is increasingly difficult when we are seeing so many Democrats talking about our issues in a positive way and we see only obfuscation and silence from this Republican administration."
Greer told The Advocate that by invoking such partisan language, HRC places gay Republicans in an awkward position, especially ones with any political aspirations. "This is a very perceptive White House, so any organization that works with Democratic candidates with the purpose of defeating George Bush is going to show up on its radar screen," he says. "And that can only hurt Republicans with ties to that organization."
Greer says the Bush administration isn't given enough credit for some of the good things it has done, such as dedicating $15 billion in May to combat the spread of HIV globally. Greer adds that he has a responsibility to "show my support for this great initiative by standing clearly with the president. This bill is evidence that Bush has done far more than President Clinton ever did in the fight against AIDS internationally."
The partisan crossfire was not limited to the beltway. In New Hampshire, state representative Corey Corbin announced in late May that he was leaving the GOP to become a Democrat. Citing Santorum's antigay remarks, he declared, "Being a gay man and, up until this week, a Republican, those comments truly summed up for me the attitude of the GOP toward the millions of gay men and women who work, raise families, pay taxes, and contribute to our society. We are hated, we are marginalized, and we are basically unwanted by a party that has forsaken the principles of Abraham Lincoln and become dominated by a right wing that falls far short of representing mainstream America."
When she first joined the Republican Unity Coalition in April 2002, Mary Cheney shared similar sentiments. "Working together, we can expand the Republican Party's outreach to nontraditional Republicans," she said in one of her few public statements on gay rights. "We can make sexual orientation a nonissue for the Republican Party, and we can help achieve equality for all gay and lesbian Americans."
But little more than a year later, that goal seems more elusive than ever.