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Family Advice from Dick Cheney

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It’s not often you’ll hear me say a person could stand to learn something from Dick Cheney. And yet, life can be surprising.
Recently, Governor Chris Christie, a Republican hopeful for the 2016 presidential nomination, elaborated on his view of sexual orientation. He even went so far as to describe his reaction if one of his children were to tell him they were gay. He said he would “grab them and hug them and tell them I love them.” However, it wouldn’t be so simple as a message of love and support. Christie would also tell them that “Dad believes that marriage is between one man and one woman.”
Christie has remained solidly opposed to the campaign for marriage equality for years now. In 2012, he vetoed legislation passed by the New Jersey State Legislature that would have legalized same sex marriages. Christie maintains that such changes ought to come not from the courts or the Legislature, but from the public through a referendum, and maintains that he bears no special animosity towards the gay community; he just happens to feel that marriage should remain between a man and a woman. Unless the public says otherwise. “My children understand that there are going to be differences of opinion in our house and in houses all across this state and across this country,” he said.
This is where, as a gay man who also has a loving and supportive family, I feel that Christie is doing an injustice to his family and to his constituents. He says that he does not think his child is able to be recognized as equal, were they to come out of the closet. Many gay people have experienced this rhetorical division of their rights and their identity. A politician who confesses great love and affection for their family also vows to respect the will of a public that may (or may not) choose to greatly restrict their rights and protections.
It’s worth noting that civil unions (which are legal in New Jersey) have been cited by many law and family experts as failing to protect LGBT families. A New Jersey state government study came to the same conclusion. This conclusion led the New Jersey State Legislature to pass a law that legalized same sex marriages in the Garden State. This law is what Christie vetoed. Finally, a court in New Jersey this year ruled against the ‘separate-but-equal’ rationale. It ruled that separate-but-equal really means unequal; it does not work for the LGBT family anymore than it would for the hetero-normative family.
This is where former Vice President Dick Cheney comes in. Although the issue of gay rights is perhaps the one thing he didn’t speak candidly to George W. Bush about, Cheney nonetheless affirmed his belief in marriage equality. (Despite having a daughter who is openly gay and married, Cheney did not speak in outright support of the issue until after he retired. In 2004, he did advocate for a state-by-state approach, but muted that opinion in deference to President Bush’s platform.) Since then, he has advocated for gay rights on a state-by state basis, even lobbying on the issue. But the reservation of this authority to the states has been used by “small government” enthusiasts to enshrine government intrusion into the lives of millions of Americans. Today, only 14 states allow same sex marriages, and courts have led the way in the majority of these states.
Cheney’s view is the powers of the states should be used to pass marriage equality. After all, the benefits and protections afforded to those unions are shown to protect and benefit families and households. What makes his view different from that of Gov. Christie (and the lives of Christie’s children, and their families) is Christie’s opposition to marriage equality. Christie has drawn a line in the sand, a principled stand for government intrusion into the lives of his family and constituents, but only until voters tell him otherwise.
More importantly, Christie would be willing to tell a child who came out to him that although he loves and cherishes them, he’d be willing to enshrine their second class citizenship into the state constitution, until the public disapproved of it. Maybe he should have a word with Dick.