No Republican in Washington is more beloved by social conservatives than Vice President Dick Cheney, who with his wife, Lynne, has backed and breathed every issue dear to them for six tumultuous years.
News that Cheney's lesbian daughter, Mary, is pregnant has therefore touched a nerve, as advocates for conservative values struggle to reconcile their loyalty to the Cheneys with their visceral opposition to same-sex relationships -- and particularly to raising a child without a father.
"Not only is she doing a disservice to her child, she's voiding all the effort her father put into the Bush administration," said Janice Shaw Crouse, senior fellow at the Beverly LaHaye Institute, the think tank of Concerned Women for America. Asked why the administration downplayed the news, she added, "This is Cheney's daughter; anything they say will make the situation worse."
The vice president's office confirmed Wednesday that Mary Cheney, 37, an executive at AOL, was expecting her first child with her partner of 15 years, Heather Poe. The vice president and his wife issued a statement saying they are "looking forward with eager anticipation to the arrival of their sixth grandchild."
Cheney's older daughter, Elizabeth, and her husband, Philip Perry, had their fifth child in July. White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said that when Cheney told President Bush of Mary Cheney's pregnancy, "the president congratulated them and said he is very happy for them."
Some groups that oppose same-sex marriage and gay adoptions -- such as the Family Research Council and the Eagle Forum -- declined to comment. But others were critical, albeit with a delicate touch not always seen in the political wars over gay issues.
"Children deserve the very best we can offer, and gay adoption -- by definition -- intentionally denies children either a mother or a father," said Carrie Gordon Earll, an analyst for Focus on the Family, the Colorado-based family advocacy ministry. "Adoption laws should put the needs of children first, above the desires of adults."
The Family Pride Coalition, a Washington-based organization that supports gay parenthood and organized gay families to join the Easter egg roll on the White House lawn this year, argued that Cheney's pregnancy will focus attention on the injustice of parents without equal rights. She and Poe live in Virginia, which has a state law and a constitutional amendment prohibiting same-sex marriage or civil unions, and where the legal status of adoption by gays is unclear.
"Unless they move to a handful of less restrictive states, Heather will never be able to have a legal relationship with her child," said Jennifer Chrisler, the group's executive director. "Grandpa Cheney has been part of an administration that has leveled unprecedented attacks [on gays].... If this doesn't make it real for him, I don't know what will."
Social conservatives countered that the case highlights the tragedy of children raised without fathers. "The best thing we can do for a child is to provide a father and a mother," Crouse said.
Others disagreed. "All of the peer-reviewed social science studies show that gay people can be and are good parents," said consultant Chris Barron, ex-political director for the Log Cabin Republicans, the largest organization for gays in the GOP. "Research shows that the difficulty is for single parents, who are in more difficult economic situations and are forced to spend less time with the children."