Liz and Mary Cheney: Losing a sister or losing a race?

November 18, 2013

Liz (l) and Mary Cheney, daughters of Vice President Dick Cheney, at the Republican National Convention in 2004. (Jeff Haynes/AFP/Getty Images)

As a parent of two kids — 21 and 15 years old — I feel for Dick and Lynne Cheney right now. (Believe me, I never thought I’d have any empathy for the former vice president.)

They’re in a tough situation: Daughter Liz wants to win the Republican primary for U.S. Senate in Wyoming, so she believes she has to prove she’s against gay marriage. But her sister Mary is gay and married Heather Poe in 2012. And it appeared the two sisters were close.

Until the Senate race drove them apart. They’ve been squabbling in social media, but their disagreement escalated over the weekend.

Sunday night, in an appearance on Fox News, Liz reiterated her stance against gay marriage, prompting Mary’s spouse, Heather Poe, to comment on Facebook. Then Mary reposted Poe’s remarks, prefacing with, “Liz – this isn’t just an issue on which we disagree – you’re just wrong – and on the wrong side of history.”

Since I’m in “parent mode” at the moment, telling the other person in any kind of disagreement,  “You’re wrong,” is not conducive for getting along or maintaining a healthy relationship.

It’s no wonder the Cheney parents felt compelled to issue a statement today, but what they said sounds too much like they are putting politics ahead of family harmony:

“This is an issue we have dealt with privately for many years, and we are
pained to see it become public.  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.”

It would have been better if the Cheneys had stopped after the first sentence. That’s all they needed to say. It’s a private issue, it’s a family matter, and seeing this fight splashed across the headlines is certainly painful.

I can only imagine how they’re feeling at seeing their family torn apart by this issue. “They say that as a parent, you’re only as happy as your unhappiest child,” Los Angeles psychotherapist Phyllis Goldberg, said in a phone interview. “It’s a natural instinct to jump in when children, even grown children, are fighting.

“But that’s not always the answer,” Goldberg continued. “The sisters are grown women and the issue is between them.”

It’s put the Cheney parents in a tough position: Who do they support?

Their statement sounds too much like an attempt to convince Wyoming voters that Liz really is against gay marriage. I’m surprised; Dick Cheney in the past has faced criticism for not only refusing to support a constitutional amendment against gay marriage but endorsing state-sanctioned gay marriage in 2009 in his remarks at the National Press Club.

My kids are young enough, still, that they haven’t had fights of the magnitude to cause them to quit speaking to one another. My brother and I have had our disagreements, and tried to drag my mom in as referee.

What she has said, and I have repeated to my own kids is this: Your relationship with your sibling may be the longest, in terms of years, of any relationship you have in your life.

That’s not just my mom being wise; you can find references to this “longest bond” in psychological research literature. Siblings have a shared history and common memories unique to them.

The New York Times has reported Mary Cheney saying she did not plan to see her sister at Christmas.

Is any political race worth losing a sister?

Diana Reese is a journalist in Overland Park, Kan. Follow her on Twitter at @dianareese.
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