Last edited: February 14, 2005

Moonies, Mantras — and Mary, August 4, 2000

By Michelangelo Signorile, Editor at Large

PHILADELPHIA — The doublespeak coming out of this city on the last night of the Republican National Convention was even thicker than the hideously hot and humid air that plagued this town for four nights.

Accepting the Republican nomination for president, George W. Bush told us that his is the party of "idealism and inclusion," a party where "tolerance" is a virtue. This, of course, is the same party whose platform condemns reproductive choice, affirmative action and allowing gays and lesbians to serve in the military.

"I believe in grace because I’ve seen it, and peace because I’ve felt it, and forgiveness because I’ve needed it," said the man who governs a state that executes someone at least once a month.

"I believe in a God who calls us not to judge our neighbors but to love them," claimed the governor whose state enforces a Draconian sodomy law that criminalizes one’s neighbors’ private sexual behavior.

If this is compassionate conservatism, what exactly do they consider regular conservativism? Stoning? Water torture? Burning at the stake?

Of course, some will say that what we saw on display here this week are the philosophies of the new George W. Bush, the one who has now reached out and become, as he said himself after he met with gay Republicans last April, a "better" person. Surely, now that he’s seen the light, he’ll begin to change his positions, right?

Not according to at least one of his best buddies in Texas. "I honestly don’t think that Gov. Bush would believe that the [Texas sodomy] law should ever be changed," Texas attorney general John Cornyn, a former Texas Supreme Court Justice, told me when I caught up with him at the Texas delegation, front and center on the floor of the convention. He then added his variation of the mantra that everyone at this convention recites with frighteningly mechanical precision, lest they be banished to the far reaches of hell by the campaign: "But the message here is that we have to respect everyone no matter what their condition is. We’ve got to treat everyone as a human being and understand that we’ve got to treat people with respect."

Respect for people who openly engage in criminal activity?

"Well, that’s an interesting way to put it," Cornyn responded, belting out a nervous laugh.

And if Bush is a better person for meeting with gays, isn’t it the next logical step to decriminalize gay sex?

"Look, the fact that you meet with gay men and women is not to say that the laws [against them] should be repealed," Cornyn answered.

Like a Moonie, he then added the mantra: "But the message here today is that we respect people no matter what their lifestyle is."

Gay Republicans see all of this as progress.

"I see the progress in three stages," said Brian Bennett, a gay Republican delegate from California who served as the chief of staff of former house member Robert Dornan, once one of the most vocal anti-gay voices in Congress. Bennett was one of the Austin 12, the gay Republicans who met with Bush last April.

"The first stage is the symbolic one, which he began with the meeting with us in Austin. The second one is when you are brought into the party and have a seat at the table, when the Republican officials ask for your help. The third step, and the most difficult stage, is getting the Republican Party to accept or adopt gay positions. I don’t think we’ll do that at the national level and the party will have to be dragged by individual states."

But even if we believe that working within the Republican Party for change is something that must be done, isn’t it true that at this point in time the national Republican Party is not one that will further gay rights by any stretch of the imagination?

"In all honesty," Bennett responded. "I’d be completely without integrity to say that wasn’t true. If I were to vote strictly as a gay man, I’d vote Democratic. And if I were pro-choice — and I’ m not, I’m pro-life — I would vote Democratic. So obviously there are other issues that are important to me in terms of how I vote."

And that perhaps shines the stark light on how Dick Cheney’s openly lesbian daughter Mary Cheney could stand by her father, and is likely to take a position in the campaign as an aid. For Mary and others, Republican politics perhaps hold an allure and speak to other issues they feel passionately about — issues that they may even see as superseding their own and others’ basic civil rights.

Mary Cheney sat in the stands near her parents and directly next to her sister throughout Bush’s speech, as the overcrowded convention floor exploded with thunderous applause every few minutes. On the opposite side of Mary’s sister and her husband was an unidentified woman that some people speculated was Mary’s partner. Both this woman and Mary came onstage with the rest of the Cheney family, the Bush family and aids to the campaign. And Mary, her hair pulled back and wearing a dark gray suit, seemed absolutely jubilant, applauding and smiling broadly.

"I’ve known Mary Cheney for a lot of years," Lynn Martin, former Secretary of Labor in Bush-the-elder’s administration told me. Martin served in the Republican-controlled Congress, as a member from Illinois, throughout the 1980s, one of Ronald Reagan’s loyal congressional defenders. "Dick Cheney and I were in the House leadership together, and we were in the (Bush) cabinet together. I’ve known the family and Mary very well. Mary is bright and wonderful and Dick and Lynn are very proud of her."

Martin says she hadn’t known until recently that Mary was a lesbian. "You never know in today’s world," she said. "I never thought about it. As more and more gays and lesbians reveal themselves, sometimes we now say, ‘Oh, I never thought of that, but this must be why she never married, and all those things.’"

You have to wonder whether you want some people to "reveal" themselves if in the end they’re going to be working for the very people who empower our enemies. If Mary Cheney was happy for her dad as the crowd inside roared, and the polls outside soared for Bush while Al Gore’s numbers continue to sink, religious conservatives were even happier for themselves.

"The bulk of the votes are going to come from the conservatives," Gary Bauer, the head of the gay-bashing Family Research Council who made his own unsuccessful run for this nomination, explained, gliding through the halls of the convention, wearing a knowing smile. He didn’t seem concerned that the Bush campaign kept people like Pat Robertson far away from the podium and the cameras, nor that mad-dog congressional gay-bashers like Senate Majority leader Trent Lott and House Majority Leader Dick Armey were kept on very short leashes. (No wonder. Armey still couldn’t keep his mouth shut, reportedly making another anti-gay crack about Barney Frank at a convention party.)

"We know where the votes are going to come from on Election Day," Bauer said confidently. "The people who will put Gov. Bush in office if he wins are people who are pro-family and pro-life." And no matter how much this four-day television production has been about "inclusion," and no matter how many lesbian daughters work for the campaign, they are still the ones to whom Bush will owe any victory.

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