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Cheney's grand moment of moderation

DICK CHENEY'S loving affirmation of his gay daughter and restated lack of interest in a national constitutional amendment banning gay marriage was instantly thrown into the Republican Party's refuse compactor. Just a day after Cheney's remarks, the party's platform committee approved a plank that not only calls for a ban against gay marriage but also attacked civil unions, a compromise acceptable to many people who cannot stomach the thought of same-sex couples exchanging rings at an altar. On the surface, this reeks of the 1996 Republican convention when Colin Powell, then the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Republican poster man for diversity, said, "You all know that I believe in a woman's right to choose, and I strongly support affirmative action."

At the 2000 Republican convention, Powell went even further, saying the Republican Party breeds cynicism when "some in our party miss no opportunity to roundly and loudly condemn affirmative action that helped a few thousand black kids get an education, but you hardly heard a whimper from them over affirmative action for lobbyists who load our federal tax codes with preferences for special interests."

President Bush proceeded to join the fight against affirmative action in the University of Michigan Supreme Court case and deliver massive tax breaks to the rich. That cemented the current Republican Party as the one where individuals are allowed to talk about moderation on the podium while the party plasters intolerance into public policy. Anyone who dismisses Cheney has justifications that cannot be dismissed.

Yet, dismissing Cheney is a mistake.

Cheney's moment of moderation is actually far more powerful than Powell's. Powell did his best, but he was speaking broadly on political issues that were easy to dump because they had no individual face of the moment on it.

Cheney was intensely personal in talking about his daughter. A questioner asked him at a town hall meeting in Iowa, "I would like to know sir, from your heart . . . what do you think about homosexual marriages." Cheney answered with his heart, not his party's head. "Lynne and I have a gay daughter, so it's an issue that our family is very familiar with," he said. "We have two daughters, and we have enormous pride in both of them. They're both fine young women. They do a superb job, frankly, of supporting us. And we are blessed with both our daughters."

This was significant for what Cheney did not say. Unlike many key Republicans such as Trent Lott, he did not blubber about homosexuality being a sin. He said he has enormous pride in both of his daughters. Whether it is Democrat Dick Gephardt including his lesbian daughter's partner on the family Christmas card or the Republican Cheney talking with pride of his lesbian daughter, those are moments of nonpartisan love that the nation should be proud of.

The fact that Cheney put a loved-one's face on homosexuality was a bombshell not lost on those who would forever keep gay men and lesbians in the closet. A host of influential social conservatives dropped their collective jaw, with Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention saying, "If it were Cheney running for president, it would guarantee the defeat of the Republican ticket"

That makes it a clear-cut victory for the long-term acceptance of gay men and lesbians. When the second most powerful man in the world says he is proud of his gay daughter, it advances us down a road that one day will quell the spasms yesteryear, such as the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act and the rush by the vast majority of states in the 1990s to enact gay marriage bans.

It is an acceptance that will prove more powerful than the Republican platform and a wishy-washy Democratic ticket that embraces the gay vote but is so tortured about it that John Kerry retreats sounding just like Cheney, saying gay marriage should be left up to the states. Kerry knows better about leaving intolerance up to the states. If black people waited for the states to take care of civil rights, we still might not have the right to vote.

Cheney's statement is certainly not the end of America's self-torture over this issue. But given the party he represents, it is a major crack in the wall of family intolerance. His party may not support gay rights, but far more significant in the long run is that Cheney said his gay daughter does a superb job of supporting him. He knows that in a loving family that means he has no choice but to support her in return. He knows he cannot praise his gay daughter in public, then turn his back on her by joining the call for cruelty in public policy.

Derrick Z. Jackson's e-mail address is  

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