Family Feud

The Cheneys’ Gay Marriage War

A long-simmering feud between the former veep’s daughters—one gay, the other against gay marriage—has exploded on social media. And poor Dick is caught in the middle.

11.18.13 6:20 PM ET

God help me, I actually feel sorry for Dick Cheney.

No, not because of that whole selling-his-soul-to-Satan business. Lots of people in this town do that. And, for the most part, it seems to be working out pretty well for the former VP. (As has been noted, the man looks damn good for someone of his age and cardiac history.)

But my heart does go out to Dick over the escalating gay-marriage spat between his daughters, Liz and Mary.

For those not keeping track: This year, in hot pursuit of a Wyoming Senate seat, Liz has repeatedly felt compelled to state her disapproval of gay marriage. This, as you might imagine, has not gone over well with her sister, who last year married long-time partner Heather Poe.

The spat became a hot topic this summer when Liz stressed her support for traditional marriage to the Daily Caller. An injured Mary fired back on Facebook. Since then, we are told, the girls haven’t really been speaking.

OK. Fine. These things happen in families. Everyone has had her say. Now can we all just drop the issue and try to start the healing?

Nope. This Sunday on Fox News, Liz took aim at gay marriage once more. Of her sister’s life choices, she noted that this is “just an area where we disagree.”

Mary was having none of it. Once more, she took to Facebook: “Liz—this isn’t just an issue on which we disagree, you’re just wrong—and on the wrong side of history.”

Her wife, meanwhile, got even more emotional in her Facebook post (which bears quoting in full):

I was watching my sister-in-law on Fox News Sunday (yes Liz, in fifteen states and the District of Columbia you are my sister-in-law) and was very disappointed to hear her say "I do believe in the traditional definition of marriage."

Liz has been a guest in our home, has spent time and shared holidays with our children, and when Mary and I got married in 2012—she didn't hesitate to tell us how happy she was for us.

To have her now say she doesn't support our right to marry is offensive to say the least

I can't help but wonder how Liz would feel if as she moved from state to state, she discovered that her family was protected in one but not the other.

I always thought freedom meant freedom for EVERYONE.

Ooo. Raising the carpet-bagger issue. Now that’s cold.

But wait, there’s more! Mary then took her wounds to the New York Times, sharing how, until this summer, Liz had always been “very supportive” of Mary and Heather’s relationship and that Liz’s campaign comments on the issue had taken her by surprise. As Mary tells it, Liz will not be joining the rest of the Cheneys at her and Heather’s house for Thanksgiving next week—nor will Mary be seeing Liz when the family gathers in Wyoming for Christmas. In fact, Mary asserted, she didn’t see any way for her and her sister to reconcile so long as Liz was running around talking smack about gay marriage.

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In an email to the Times, Liz primly noted that she has always tried to behave “compassionately” toward Mary’s family because, “I believe that is the Christian way to behave.”

Treating her sister’s family “compassionately”? “The Christian way to behave”? Oy. That sort of condescension is unlikely to get Liz off Mary’s naughty list any time soon.

Which brings us back to poor Dick. The VP has his flaws, but when it comes to supporting his girls, he has been a totally stand-up guy. Despite George W. Bush’s official opposition to gay marriage, Cheney was always upfront about his difference of opinion with his boss. His spanking of John Edwards on the subject during the 2004 debate was one of Dick’s nobler moments.

Behind the scenes, say those who know him, he was even more aggressive in his support of Mary and Heather. During the 2004 campaign in particular, he would introduce Mary and Heather—as partners, not as friends—to all his stodgy, older Republican colleagues. And with pols who had been particularly outspoken in opposing gay rights, the VP could cop quite an attitude.

Nine years on, even as much of the nation is coming around on gay marriage, the VP now finds his own daughter among those still out there waving the traditional-marriage flag.

Complicating matters, Dick and Lynn raised both their girls to be fierce, opinionated, and unafraid to speak their minds. Liz’s fire has long been obvious to viewers of the political chat-show circus, while Mary is said to be even more of a “force of nature.”  Nor has Dick ever been one of those heavy-handed patriarchs who bangs his fist on the table and demands that everyone get along. (When the family is all together, says one Cheney friend, “the three women are very dominant—and he’s very comfortable with that.”)

"This is an issue we have dealt with privately for many years, and we are pained to see it become public," Cheney and his wife Lynne said in a statement on Monday. "Since it has, one thing should be clear. Liz has always believed in the traditional definition of marriage. She has also always treated her sister and her sister's family with love and respect, exactly as she should have done. Compassion is called for, even when there is disagreement about such a fundamental matter and Liz's many kindnesses shouldn't be used to distort her position."

How this Shakespearean drama will play out is anyone’s guess. Maybe the chance to flaunt her conservatism will wind up boosting Liz’s Senate chances. Maybe the family-feud spectacle of it all will damage the Cheney (not to mention the GOP) brand. Or maybe everyone will get this out of her system in time for a big ol’ New Year’s rapprochement in Jackson Hole. But at this point, dear old dad has little choice but to stand back and let his girls slug it out and hope for the best. Because getting between these two women on an issue this deeply felt would be risky even for the man not-so-affectionately known as the Dark Lord.