By Dan Eggen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 2, 2009
Former vice president Richard B. Cheney waded into another roiling public debate yesterday, saying that he supports legalizing same-sex marriage as long as the issue is decided by the states, rather than the federal government.
Cheney, whose youngest daughter has a longtime lesbian partner, said at the National Press Club that "people ought to be free to enter into any kind of union they wish, any kind of arrangement they wish."
He added, however, that he does not support a federal role in the matter. "Historically, the way marriage has been regulated is at the state level," Cheney said. "It has always been a state issue, and I think that is the way it ought to be handled, on a state-by-state basis."
Cheney has long departed from conservative orthodoxy on the issue of same-sex marriage. He said during the 2000 presidential campaign that the matter should be left to the states, and he caused a small uproar during the 2004 race by appearing to distance himself from a proposed constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, a measure that was strongly supported by his boss, President George W. Bush.
Cheney's position appears also to put him to the left of the current president on the issue. President Obama has said he supports civil unions, rather than marriage, for gay men and lesbians.
Cheney has emerged as a leading critic of the Obama administration over its handling of national security and economic issues. He spent most of his Press Club appearance yesterday reiterating his defense of the Bush administration's handling of the economy, its decision to go to war in Iraq and its approval of coercive interrogation tactics widely viewed as torture. He was asked about same-sex marriage during a question-and-answer session.
As he has in the past, Cheney cited his family's experience as informing his position. "As many of you know, one of my daughters is gay, and it is something we have lived with for a long time in our family," he said.
Cheney's youngest daughter, Mary, and her partner, Heather Poe, have a son, Samuel, who was born to Mary Cheney in 2007. Mary and her older sister, Elizabeth, have been prominent supporters of the Republican party and its causes, although Mary has said in interviews that she considered quitting the Bush reelection campaign in 2004 over the gay marriage issue.