Everything You Need to Know about Dick Cheney and His Family’s Big Messy Gay Marriage Debate

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You know the drill: you’re sitting down for a nice Thanksgiving dinner with the family, you’re right in the middle of passing the sweet potato casserole, and then—like a lump in the gravy—your sister tells your other sister that she’s less of a human being than normal people and deserves fewer rights as an American citizen. Ah, the holidays!

Former Vice President Dick Cheney, he of punch-card policies on war and heart surgeries (buy 4, get the 5th free!), is having a tough holiday season. His daughters, Liz and Mary, have gotten into quite a public spat about gay marriage. Since talking about other people’s troubles at the dinner table distracts you from thinking about your own, here’s a primer on all the essential facts of Cheneygate 2013.

Mary Cheney Is Gay and Proud, with a Complicated Legacy on Gay Rights

Mary, Dick and Lynne Cheney’s second daughter, came out to her parents in high school and has been working to promote gay rights for decades, with her earliest public success coming in the late ‘90s, when she worked with the legendarily conservative Coors Brewing Company to better its relations with the gay community after a lengthy boycott. However, she angered many in the gay rights movement when she largely kept quiet about her sexual orientation during her father’s 2000 campaign for Vice President, even when her mother publicly denied that Mary had ever even called herself a lesbian.

Two years later, Cheney began campaigning within the Republican Party to convince the GOP to embrace marriage equality. But, she again disappointed in 2004 when she refused to take a public stance against the Bush administration’s proposed Federal Marriage Amendment, which would have legally banned not only gay marriage but also the benefits for gay couples involved in civil unions and domestic partnerships. She worked on her father’s 2004 reelection campaign, and supported Mitt Romney in 2012. She married partner Heather Poe in Washington, D.C., in 2012, and the couple has two children.

Liz Cheney Is Running for the Senate in Wyoming and Opposes Gay Marriage

Liz, her parents’ oldest daughter, has made a career in politics. An attorney, she contributes to Fox News, and she’s served in various positions with the State Department and the Republican Party. Now, she wants to be a Senator, and she’s running in Wyoming against incumbent Mike Enzi. In early November, Liz appeared on Fox News and announced her opposition to gay marriage. Mary, apparently watching at home, had no idea her sister had planned the announcement. Liz has been behind in the polls for her Senate race.

Dick Cheney Actually Supports Gay Marriage (Seriously)

Vice President Cheney came out for gay marriage (if that’s the right idiom) in 2009. He doesn’t support federal marriage reform, but he believes the states should decide what to do about the issue and thinks, quote, “Freedom means freedom for everyone.” This guy!

Liz and Mary Are Fighting—In Public! Near Thanksgiving!

After she saw her sister’s speech on Fox, Mary did what so many of us do when faced with the opportunity to confront our families and friends to their faces when they upset us: she logged onto Facebook, instead. In a public post there, she told her older sis that not only is she wrong on the issue, she’s “on the wrong side of history.” Later, in an interview with the New York Times, Mary explained further, saying Liz surprised her in August by telling her she opposed gay marriage. Previously, Mary says, Liz had always been extremely supportive of her younger sister. Now, she says she and Liz have zero chance of making up, unless Liz renounces her opposition to gay marriage rights.

Liz, trailing in the polls for her Senate race, does not appear inclined to do so in the deeply conservative state of Wyoming. Just today, Dick Cheney released a statement that says he and Lynne are “pained” by the argument but stopping short of supporting one daughter’s opinion over the other. Just like parents, saying they love “everyone equally for different reasons.” Of course, he’s already tacitly done so through his pro-marriage comments in 2009, but whatever.

Maybe we should all take a moment and actually allow ourselves to feel sorry for Dick Cheney? Seeing your kids locked in a heated, emotional battle must be difficult, and we’ve all dealt with family strife. Did you take your moment? All right, good. Back to normal now. Your Thanksgiving dinner should seem like a breeze in comparison.

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