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LGBTQ community has reason to doubt Liz Cheney's new support for gay rights

Cheney voted against gay rights legislation seven months ago.
Image: Liz Cheney
Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., said in a "60 Minutes" interview Sunday that she was wrong to have opposed same-sex marriage.Drew Angerer / Getty Images; MSNBC

Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., has finally come out — as a supporter of gay rights.

During an interview Sunday on “60 Minutes,” the conservative politician from one of America’s most influential political families did a surprising turnabout when she came out in support of LGBTQ people — a community she’s discriminated against for years for her own political gain.

Let's not make Liz Cheney the Grand Marshal of Pride 2022 just yet.

“I was wrong. I was wrong,” Cheney, daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, said in the interview with Lesley Stahl, who noted she was not expecting such a confession. Referring to her sister, Mary, who is openly gay, Cheney said, “I love my sister very much. I love her family very much, and I was wrong. It's a very personal issue and very personal for my family. I believe that my dad was right, and my sister and I have had that conversation.”

The Wyoming congresswoman went further by saying, correctly, that transgender people are a group that we as a nation need to protect. We do, especially now as they continue to face devastating attacks across this nation both physically and legislatively.

But let’s not make Cheney the grand marshal of Pride 2022 just yet. Let’s instead raise our eyebrows at what she’s saying.

In February, the House, in a 224-206 vote, passed the Equality Act, a measure that would provide the strongest level of protections for LGBTQ folks ever in America, sending the bill over to a Senate where there’s not enough support to pass it. Three Republicans in the House voted in favor of the Equality Act. Cheney was not one of them.

Her claim to Stahl that she’s now a supporter of gay rights was such a newsworthy moment because she has infamously held tight to her anti-LGBTQ views since 2013 when she unsuccessfully challenged incumbent Sen. Mike Enzi of Wyoming for his seat but found lots of success by sticking to her talking points opposing same-sex marriage. Her sister had married her partner the previous year. She reaffirmed her opposition to same-sex marriage in 2016, a year after the Supreme Court had made such marriages legal across the country.

While it is good to hear her finally admit being wrong about something her father told her she was wrong about a decade ago, this sounds less like a change of heart and more like Cheney being aware of changing politics.

Here’s a fun fact you probably didn’t know: Republicans actually like same-sex marriage now, and we have the data to prove it. According to data from a 2021 Gallup poll, not only do most Americans continue to largely support same-sex marriage, but also for the first time, a majority of Republicans finally do too. Acceptance of same-sex marriage has reached a record high of 70 percent nationally, and among Republicans, support for same-sex marriage was at 55 percent, according to a Gallup poll in June.

That means Cheney is announcing that she’s now OK with same-sex marriage at just the right historical moment. Because of that, I hope Democrats pause and take a breath before making her the face of #TheResistance.

The cultural shift showing Republican support for gay marriage actually has nothing to do with Republicans actually caring about all LGBTQ people having full and equal rights. Instead, it’s proof of something we’ve known for a long time: Same-sex marriage is a conservative issue at its core, but one some conservatives have chosen not to accept until now.

In 1989, Andrew Sullivan wrote the canonical essay “The Case for Gay Marriage.” Published by The New Republic, the essay argued that same-sex marriage was an issue conservatives should take up.

“It could bring the essence of gay life — a gay couple — into the heart of the traditional straight family in a way the family can most understand and the gay offspring can most easily acknowledge,” he wrote as he argued that same-sex marriage would not ruin the institution of marriage, but rather make it stronger.

Same-sex marriage is a conservative issue at its core, but one some conservatives have chosen not to accept until now.

And, now, with the passing of full marriage equality in 2015, his points have been validated, which is why Cheney just now announcing her acceptance is nothing to celebrate. Because while marriage has done a lot for the LGBTQ rights movement, it currently is a shield Republicans such as Cheney can use to block us from reaching full equality.

During the time Sullivan’s piece was written and in the subsequent years of activism, the LGBTQ community had many internal conflicts over the mainstream LGBTQ civil rights movement's obsession with marriage.

Many communities under the rainbow umbrella felt that issues including access to housing, health care, and even dignity should not rest on the shoulders of an institution like marriage -- that we should be able to have equal access to these things without having to tie the knot.

The trans communitiy and queer communities of color were among those who feared that once marriage equality was realized, that issue’s leaders would not use this momentum to do the work to ensure the rest of our issues were given the same energy and focus. Many people have written extensively over the years about how this fear was realized — and continues to be realized: from the nightmare legal battles around trans youth in Arkansas to rising rates of LGBTQ people experiencing homelessness to the ongoing epidemic of trans murders.

All of those things are getting worse even as same-sex marriage stays intact, which brings us back to Cheney and the shallowness of her new position.

If she is serious about her new position supporting LGBTQ people, then what she needs to do now is go further than Republicans have ever gone before — especially if she’s considering running in 2024 as part of an anti-Trump ticket.

We have just endured four years of President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence gaslighting LGBTQ people.

We have just endured four years of President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence gaslighting LGBTQ people by carrying Pride flags on stage and stating their support for the queer community while trying to roll back our rights on every level. Their lies about supporting the LGBTQ community continue to become more obvious. Pence recently paid a supportive visit to Hungary after that nation, over the European Union’s objections, passed a law that was hostile to LGBTQ Hungarians.

LGBTQ people deserve politicians — on both sides of the aisle — who don’t see our lives as something that only has value when the political needle finally moves enough for them to feel safe enough to say something.

The fact that Cheney was so staunch for so long in her anti-gay marriage stance even as her position was hostile to her own family’s interests makes me even less trusting of her apparent change.

Because my life and her sister’s life, no one’s life, isn’t a game for her to play for her own political gain — but only when the timing is right.