Thousands of gay rights supporters are posting open letters on the Internet urging Mary Cheney, the vice president's daughter, to speak out against amending the Constitution to ban same-sex marriage.
The campaign targets Cheney, 34, because she is openly gay and is running her father's part of the Bush-Cheney reelection campaign but has not taken a public position on the proposed Federal Marriage Amendment.
"As an open lesbian who has worked for years as a public advocate for gay civil rights, you are in a unique position to defend yourself and your community in this dire hour," the Web site DearMary.comsays in a model letter.
John Aravosis, a Washington political consultant who set up the site, acknowledged that it is an unusually personal challenge to a member of Vice President Cheney's family.
"If I were a fly on the White House wall, I think they might be saying, 'Wow, this is very personal.' And we would say, 'You're right, this is very personal,' " Aravosis said. "The White House has no problem publicly discussing whether my family's relationships are valid and healthy, yet they refuse to discuss their own."
Jennifer Millerwise, a spokeswoman for the Bush-Cheney campaign, declined to comment on behalf of the campaign and Mary Cheney.
Since the Web site went online Feb. 13, more than 8,000 pleas to Cheney have been posted, Aravosis said. He said the site has also raised more than $10,000 for advertisements drawing attention to Cheney's public silence and has invited public participation in devising them. One proposed ad would show her face on a milk carton under the headline, "Have you seen me?"
To some gay rights supporters, the campaign goes too far.
"We think it crosses the line of decency," said Patrick Guerriero, executive director of Log Cabin Republicans, a national organization of more than 10,000 gay conservatives. "We don't support the harassment or attacking of family members, gay or straight, of elected officials."
But Guerriero agreed that the debate over a constitutional amendment is highly charged, both politically and emotionally. Log Cabin Republicans, which supported the Bush-Cheney ticket in 2000, has warned that it will break with the campaign if President Bush formally endorses the proposed amendment, as White House aides have said he intends to do.
"If the effort to write discrimination into the Constitution and use gay and lesbian Americans as a wedge issue becomes a centerpiece of the president's reelection campaign, then it's really the line in the sand for this organization," Guerriero said. "We've been extremely loyal to this president and party through thick and thin . . . but we are forced by this particular moment in history not to sit silent in what has emerged as the cultural war that far right groups have been wanting for years."
Aravosis, 40, is president of Wired Strategies, an Internet consulting firm, and a veteran of Internet-based political campaigns, including an advertising boycott of radio talk show host Laura Schlessinger because of anti-gay remarks she made four years ago.
He said he got the idea for the "Dear Mary" campaign from a Jan. 20 column in the weekly New York Press by gay writer Michelangelo Signorile. "This is one of those moments of truth, Mary. . . . And so far, you've been working for the enemy, darling," Signorile wrote.
Before going to work for her father in the 2000 presidential campaign, Mary Cheney was employed by Coors Brewing Co. as a liaison to the gay community.
Vice President Cheney said during the 2000 campaign that it should be up to the states to decide whether to recognize same-sex relationships, and that "I don't think there should necessarily be a federal policy." In an interview published Jan. 11 by the Denver Post, he indicated that his position has not changed but said, "The president is going to have to make a decision in terms of what administration policy is on this particular provision, and I will support whatever decision he makes."