As Vice President Dick Cheney stepped onto the podium in Madison Square Garden on Wednesday night, the eyes of some were trained not on the stage but the audience, searching for a glimpse of his daughter Mary.
And there she was, in the family’s box, sitting next to her partner in their first prominent public appearance as a lesbian couple.
The vice president, in his speech accepting renomination, did not mention Mary or her older sister, Elizabeth, choosing instead to feature his four grandchildren. At the end of the vice president’s remarks, he was joined onstage by Elizabeth and the grandchildren, while Mary and Heather Poe applauded from their seats.
Their prominence in the first row of the box amounted to a silent resistance against religious conservatives, who had made Mary Cheney’s sexual orientation an issue.
Her decision not to slink from the controversy raised few hackles Wednesday at the convention.
“Sometimes people think we’re ogres. But we don’t care about that stuff,” said Judy Levine, an Indiana delegate.
Greg Curtis, a delegate from Salt Lake City, said that although he did not approve of homosexuality or gay marriage, he respected the rights of others to make their own choices.
“If I were vice president and she were my daughter, I’d want her sitting by my side too,” Curtis said.
Mary Cheney, 35, is her father’s top campaign aide and close confidante. Her sexual orientation was forced back into the news last week when her father was asked about same-sex marriage.
“Lynne and I have a gay daughter, so it’s an issue that our family is very familiar with,” Cheney replied. “My general view is that freedom means freedom for everyone. People ... ought to be free to enter into any kind of relationship they want to.”
Cheney went on to stake out a different position from President Bush, who proposed a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. The vice president said he thought the issue should be left to the states to decide.
Some religious conservatives have expressed dismay at Cheney’s refusal to condemn the “homosexual lifestyle.” On Tuesday, Alan Keyes, the Republican Senate candidate in Illinois, denounced gays as “selfish hedonists.” Asked whether that applied to Mary Cheney, Keyes replied, “That goes by definition. Of course she is.”
Asked about that remark during a CNN interview Wednesday, Elizabeth Cheney responded testily: “It doesn’t deserve a comment.”
Cheney and Poe, whom she calls her life partner, share a house in the Denver suburbs. Until the 2000 campaign, the vice president’s daughter worked at Coors Brewing Co., helping Coors shed its reputation for being anti-gay by donating funds to groups like the Human Rights Campaign and sponsoring a winning International Mr. Leather entrant.
She has irritated many gays and lesbians by working for Coors and her father, whose party adopted a platform opposing same-sex marriage or civil unions. In 2002, activists in San Francisco awarded her a “gay shame” prize.
Yet many here at the GOP convention seem willing to take a live-and-let-live approach to the vice president’s daughter.
“It’s great that she’s here supporting her father,” said San Clemente Mayor Susan Ritschel, a California delegate. “I’m not in favor of gay marriage, but I am in favor of individual freedom.”
Times staff writer Janet Hook contributed to this report.