Ever since John Kerry shocked the nation by declaring on live national television that Mary Cheney is a lesbian, I haven't been able to look at him the same way.
Poor Mary. She was just minding her business of being a pretty prominent individual whose sexual orientation has been widely reported and discussed, including by her own father while he was on the campaign trail back in August.
I know this story is, like, so two weeks ago. But in all the analyzing and positioning and spin-doctoring and expressing of shock and non-apologizing that has gone on since Kerry stood before a television camera and uttered those unforgettable words during the final presidential debate, I've become more and more outraged that the whole thing ever blew up into such a big issue.
Lynne and Dick Cheney should be ashamed of themselves instead of being ashamed of their daughter. Although Mary's sister has denied that their mother was reacting with shame about her daughter's orientation when she referred to Kerry as "not a good man," she clearly was. Let's face the facts here: Mary Cheney is an adult. She's completely open about her lesbianism (and kudos to her for that). She's active in politics, including having a prominent role as director of operations of her father's campaign. And, most urgently, Kerry didn't say anything about her that should have been considered offensive.
It shouldn't have been considered offensive by Mary Cheney (and as I understand it, Mary herself hasn't spoken up to say whether or not it was), or by Mary's parents, or by the media outlets that jumped on the story and characterized it as Kerry telling us something scandalous that we didn't already know about poor little Mary Cheney.
In the immediate aftermath of the debate where Kerry dropped that supposed bomb on us, actually pointing out that an open lesbian is a (dramatic pause) lesbian and expressing compassion for her as someone who didn't choose to be gay, I had a sort of heated discussion with a straight friend who thought Kerry was out of line. She's a good liberal, this friend, so it isn't that she felt protective of the Bush campaign. She told me she thinks a candidate's children shouldn't be mentioned in a political context by an opposing candidate.
I think that's probably true if the children aren't involved in the campaign in question or are, say, under 18. If someone tried to suggest that the tiny children of John and Elizabeth Edwards were future homosexuals, I'd call that a red herring. Let's leave 6- and 4-year-olds out of this. But Mary Cheney, who is 35 whole years old, has established herself as a lesbian and it's not shocking or scandalous for any of us to talk about it, particularly if we're making the point that people are born gay and we need only look to the family of one of the nation's most prominent conservatives to see an example of how we (the gays) truly are everywhere.
When my friend put forth this argument to me, I tried to explain that it would be like John Kerry having a son in the Marines, and George Bush mentioning this mythical Kerry son during a debate as an honorable example of the need for increased defense spending. Nothing offensive about that, right?
My friend, to her credit, disagreed and repeated her point that a candidate's children should not be mentioned by the opponent. But I think most of America would feel differently about the hypothetical military example than they did about the non-hypothetical lesbian example. Nobody would be freaking out about that. They'd be saying, "Hey, good point, George! Why isn't Kerry more juiced up about defense spending?"
So, let's say it: Good point, John. Mary Cheney is a lesbian. (You read it here first!) She's never said that she chose her sexual orientation, so we have to guess that the vice president and his wife produced a genetic lesbian or, if you can't swallow that, that something about the way they raised her created this notion inside her that she should fall in love with women. It was perfectly appropriate for Kerry to mention her as an example of a gay person who probably did not choose to be gay, given her environment.
After all, I think most of us feel pretty strongly that we didn't choose to be gay any more than our heterosexual friends and family members chose to be straight. It is what it is, and we can choose to accept and embrace it or choose to be ashamed of and miserable about it.
At the time of this column's printing, there will be just a handful of days left before the presidential election. I don't have regular communication with anybody who isn't planning to vote for John Kerry, and I'm pretty happy about that. (I'll drop my brother a note after Nov. 2.) I do know one person residing in a swing state who told me she voted absentee well before the election, and then let it slip that she didn't vote in a way that would make me happy, but she also didn't vote in a way that would make me unhappy. Think third-party. Think also about how if the state where this person lives goes to Bush by one vote, and Bush wins the election by a margin that shows that this state's electoral votes made a difference in the outcome, I will know who to blame.
I'm probably preaching to the choir (unless my brother is reading this), but it has to be said: Gays and those who care about us and our issues have a lot at stake on Nov. 2. Getting to your local polling place has never been more important (especially for my friends in states expected to go Republican or still on the charts as undecided).
Being gay is not a choice, but we do have choices, and our choice on Nov. 2 should be crystal clear.
Kristina Campbell lives in the Election-Map-Blue state of Maryland. If you aren't sure who to vote for, drop her a note for guidance (but do it before Nov. 2). "Alphabet Soup" appears biweekly and its author can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.