Cheney Opposes GOP Moderation, but What About His Support for Gay Rights?

The former veep doesn't want Republicans to moderate. So how can he explain his gay rights support?

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By Dan Gilgoff, God & Country

Dick Cheney has made waves arguing that it would be a " mistake for us to moderate" as his beleaguered party attempts to retool (and the former vice president's appearance yesterday on Face the Nation suggests he won't be abandoning his role as a party spokesman anytime soon).

And yet for the past eight years, Cheney urged Republicans to moderate their position on a central issue in the tug of war between the party's conservative and moderate forces: gay rights. Cheney, who has an openly gay daughter, caught flak from conservative Christian groups for pro-gay rights statements like this from the 2000 vice presidential debate:

We live in a free society, and freedom means freedom for everybody. We shouldn’t be able to choose and say you get to live free and you don’t. That means people should be free to enter into any kind of relationship they want to enter into. It’s no one’s business in terms of regulating behavior in that regard. The next step then, of course, is the question you ask of whether or not there ought to be some kind of official sanction of the relationships or if they should be treated the same as a traditional marriage. . . . I think different states are likely to come to different conclusions, and that’s appropriate. . . . We ought to do everything we can to tolerate and accommodate whatever kind of relationships people want to enter into.

In the '04 campaign, Cheney publicly disagreed with President Bush's support for a constitutional ban on gay marriage, prompting incredulity from the Family Research Council's Tony Perkins: “I find it hard to believe the vice president would stray from the administration’s position on defense policy or tax policy. For many pro-family voters, protecting traditional marriage ranks ahead of the economy and job creation as a campaign issue.”

Indeed, a central front in the debate within the GOP about the way forward is whether or not to build a big tent by embracing social liberals, those who embrace abortion rights and gay rights. John McCain's campaign manager from last year's presidential race has said Republicans must do so to avoid becoming a "religious party."

To Christian conservatives, meanwhile, "big tent" is code for playing down so-called values issues and throwing the party's evangelical foot soldiers under the bus.

When it comes to national security, Cheney has been the GOP's most prominent voice in defending controversial parts of the last administration's war on terrorism: enhanced interrogation techniques (which critics call torture), widespread government wiretapping, the Iraq invasion. When Cheney speaks out against the GOP going moderate, that's the basket of issues he's focused on.

But when it comes to moderating the broader GOP brand, Cheney's stated support for gay rights is at odds with his recent rhetoric. To social conservatives who are bent on purifying the GOP, pro-gay rights figures like Cheney are part of the problem.

Here's the exchange from the former vice president's recent appearance on Scott Hennen's radio show in which he made the "mistake for us to moderate" remark:

Hennen: Some people are wringing their hands saying, “This is an example of why the party needs to change, to hear the message of Specter,” that, as Colin Powell said, the Republican Party needs to moderate. Do you think the Republican Party needs to moderate? Is that the message of the Specter defection, or the state of the party these days?

Cheney: No I don’t. I think it would be a mistake for us to moderate. This is about fundamental beliefs and values and ideas . . . what the role of government should be in our society, and our commitment to the Constitution and Constitutional principles. You know, when you add all those things up the idea that we ought to moderate basically means we ought to fundamentally change our philosophy. I for one am not prepared to do that, and I think most of us aren’t. Most Republicans have a pretty good idea of values, and aren’t eager to have someone come along and say, “Well, the only way you can win is if you start to act more like a Democrat.”