Focus on the Family expressed its disapproval over Mary Cheney's pregnancy, with analyst Carrie Gordon Earll arguing that “conceiv[ing] a child outside” of a heterosexual marriage is not “a good idea” because "[l]ove can't replace a mother and a father," while Bill O'Reilly devoted a segment to the “controversial” family-to-be. However, Focus on the Family and O'Reilly both criticized Sen. John Kerry in 2004 for allegedly invading Cheney's privacy when he mentioned her sexual orientation during a presidential debate.
Following December 6 reports that Vice President Dick Cheney's lesbian daughter, Mary Cheney, is pregnant, several conservative organizations and commentators have expressed their disapproval over the pregnancy or at least raised questions. Yet, at least one of these same critics -- the organization Focus on the Family -- attacked Sen. John F. Kerry (D-MA) during the 2004 presidential race for allegedly invading Mary Cheney's privacy when he mentioned her sexual orientation during a presidential debate. Fox News host Bill O'Reilly devoted a segment to the news, despite having suggested that Kerry was not being “respectful” of Cheney's “private life.”
On December 6, The Washington Post reported that Cheney was pregnant. In response, according to the Associated Press, Focus on the Family bioethics analyst Carrie Gordon Earll “expressed empathy for the Cheney family but depicted the pregnancy as unwise.” Earll argued that “conceiv[ing] a child outside” of a heterosexual marriage is not “a good idea” because "[l]ove can't replace a mother and a father."
But, in 2004, after Kerry referred to Mary Cheney as a lesbian during the third presidential debate while responding to a question on homosexuality, Focus on the Family founder and chairman James Dobson was quick to admonish Kerry for doing so. On the October 14, 2004, edition of Fox News' Hannity & Colmes, Dobson asserted, “I thought [it] was terrible” for Kerry to mention Mary Cheney's sexual orientation during the debate. “It wasn't fair. It was an invasion of her privacy. I don't even know if she's outed herself.” In fact, as Media Matters for America noted, Cheney is and was openly gay, and Kerry did not “out” her during the 2004 presidential race.
Similarly, on the December 6 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor, O'Reilly hosted a segment on Cheney's pregnancy and parenting by same-sex couples, in which he asked such questions as “will” Mary Cheney and Poe's “child suffer a deficit” for being raised by two women and whether “it would be mandatory for a lesbian couple to bring in some male presence to help the child.” But, in 2004, while O'Reilly stated that he didn't “think” Kerry “went after” Cheney intentionally, he did assert during an October 20, 2004, interview with Elizabeth Cheney, Mary Cheney's sister and the principal deputy assistant secretary of state that Kerry's remarks caused a backlash because “when you're talking about people's private lives, you've got to be very, careful to be respectful.” The previous day, O'Reilly had asserted that Kerry “had no right to bring up Mary Cheney's name in the context of” the debate question on whether Kerry believed homosexuality was genetic or a choice.
In addition, conservative media figures seized upon the announcement that Mary Cheney is pregnant as an opportunity to advance the baseless claim that a child raised by a same-sex couple is at a disadvantage:
- Robert Knight, director of the Culture & Media Institute at the Media Research Center: “I think it's tragic that a child has been conceived with the express purpose of denying it a father. ... Fatherhood is important and always will be, so if Mary and her partner indicate that that is a trivial matter, they're shortchanging this child from the start.” [ABC News online report; 12/06/06]
- Earll: “Mary Cheney's pregnancy raises the question of what's best for children. ... Just because it's possible to conceive a child outside of the relationship of a married mother and father doesn't mean it's the best for the child.” [The New York Times, 12/07/06]
- Janice Crouse, Concerned Women for America senior fellow: “They're deliberately bringing a child into the world without a father, leaving a great gaping hole. ... Father absence is the biggest problem we're facing in this country ... the root cause of all sorts of negative outcomes -- drug use, juvenile delinquency. You name it.” [ABC News online report; 12/06/06]
As Media Matters has noted, studies have consistently found that children raised by gay or lesbian parents suffer no adverse effects to psychosocial development.
In fact, as Colorado Media Matters has noted (here and here), the American Psychological Association (APA) concluded in a 2005 study of lesbian and gay parenting that "[n]ot a single study has found children of lesbian or gay parents to be disadvantaged in any significant respect relative to children of heterosexual parents." The study also found that “the evidence to date suggests that home environments provided by lesbian and gay parents are as likely as those provided by heterosexual parents to support and enable children's psychosocial growth.”
Also, in 2002, the American Academy of Pediatrics reported on the psychosocial development of children raised by same-sex parents. The report noted:
A growing body of scientific literature demonstrates that children who grow up with 1 or 2 gay and/or lesbian parents fare as well in emotional, cognitive, social, and sexual functioning as do children whose parents are heterosexual. Children's optimal development seems to be influenced more by the nature of the relationships and interactions within the family unit than by the particular structural form it takes.
The report also concluded: "[P]arents' sexual orientation is not a variable that, in itself, predicts their ability to provide a home environment that supports children's development."
In June 2004, the APA announced its opposition to “legislation proposed at the federal and state levels that would amend the U.S. Constitution or state constitutions, respectively, to prohibit marriage between same-sex couples.” In doing so, the APA noted:
Gay and lesbian parents are as likely as heterosexual parents to provide healthy and supportive environments for their children. Lesbian and heterosexual women do not differ markedly either in their overall mental health or in their approaches to child rearing. Nor do lesbians' romantic and sexual relationships with other women detract from their ability to care for their children. Recent evidence suggests that gay and lesbian couples with children tend to divide child care and household responsibilities evenly and to report satisfaction with their relationship.
Studies of various aspects of child development reveal few differences among children of lesbian mothers and heterosexual parents in such areas as personality, self-concept, behavior, and sexual identity. (The limited data on the children of gay fathers suggests similar findings.) Evidence also suggests that children of lesbian and gay parents have normal social relationships with peers and adults. Fears about children of lesbian or gay parents being sexually abused by adults, ostracized by peers, or isolated in single-sex lesbian or gay communities have received no scientific support.
From the December 6 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:
O'REILLY: “Back of the Book” segment tonight: As you know Vice President Dick Cheney is a staunch conservative but seems to have a good relationship with his daughter Mary, a lesbian. Now, Mary Cheney has announced she's expecting a baby next spring. The father is unknown. Ms. Cheney says she'll raise the child with her partner, Heather Poe.
And that refocuses the debate over so-called alternative families, a situation that remains controversial in America. Joining us now from Kansas City is Margie Manion, who studies and writes about parenting.
As you know, as everybody knows, there is a strain of thought about it in America -- I write about it in Culture Warrior -- that says you don't need a mom and a dad, that two dads or two moms can do just as good a job as a mom and a dad in raising a child. Do you believe that?
MARGIE MANION: Actually, no, I think that the mother and the father both play an important role but I think that they both bring different things to parenting.
They have totally separate styles. We are wired -- we -- you know, everyone knows that we are wired completely differently, men and women are. We do discipline differently; we play with our children differently; we nurture our children. So, I think we both have important rule -- roles in parenting, but I think that they're both irreplaceable roles.
O'REILLY: OK, but Mary Cheney and her partner are going to have a baby in the spring.
O'REILLY: Not going to be any dad around. In your experience and research, 'cause there have been a number of studies, will that child suffer a deficit?
MANION: Well, you know, every child and every parent is different. In my opinion, I think the best -- the best, ideal situation would be to have a mother and a father present.
O'REILLY: All right. But let's -- let's --
MANION: I think that they're at high -- they're at higher risk for other things --
O'REILLY: What -- what will a child miss without the dad?
MANION: You know, every parent is different. Just -- it would depend on other role models and other male figures in -- in the child's life, so that's hard for me to say, not knowing other -- other people in their life --
O'REILLY: You mean, like an uncle or a grandfather or somebody like that.
MANION: Right. Somebody that can be a positive, strong, mature --
O'REILLY: Would you say it would be mandatory for a lesbian couple to bring in some male presence to help the child?
MANION: I would, in my belief, yes.
O'REILLY: All right. Ms. Manion, thanks very much. We appreciate it.
MANION: Thank you.
From the October 19, 2004, edition of Fox News's The O'Reilly Factor:
O'REILLY: What's the headline here, Juan?
JUAN WILLIAMS (National Public radio senior correspondent and Fox News contributor): Well, he [Kerry] refused to apologize about the Mary Cheney episode, said that he didn't intend to offend anybody. He was trying to communicate that it was a matter of embracing a child, and he understood that the Cheneys love their child. In essence, I think he felt that it was a distraction.
O'REILLY: All right, but why does the fact that the Cheneys love their daughter have anything to do with him?
WILLIAMS: Well, I think that he felt he was responding to the question from Bob Schieffer who was the moderator about whether or not homosexuality is a choice or genetic, and he was saying that he believes that people make choices and that you have to see it that way and treat them that way.
O'REILLY: Why would he bring in Mary Cheney if that's the question? I mean, I would only bring in Mary Cheney if I asked John Kerry do you think the Cheneys love their daughter? See, then you could bring in Mary Cheney because, yes, they love Mary. But asking him a question about homosexuality, whether it's born or acquired, why does Mary Cheney have anything to do with that?
WILLIAMS: His word was “prominent,” Bill. He said this is a prominent person, someone that everyone knows. Obviously, she had been the topic of discussion in the vice-presidential debate --
O'REILLY: Brought up by?
WILLIAMS: -- between Vice President Cheney and [former Sen.] John Edwards [D-NC].
O'REILLY: Brought up by? Brought up by whom?
WILLIAMS: I believe -- I don't remember exactly who brought that up, but --
O'REILLY: Edwards brought it up.
WILLIAMS: I think there was a question, and then --
O'REILLY: I would have -- I would have given --
WILLIAMS: ... in fact, Vice President Cheney said thanks to --
O'REILLY: Juan, I mean -- I'm telling you, Juan, you should have given him a couple of pops on this one because he had no right to bring up Mary Cheney's name in the context of that question.
WILLIAMS: Well, he said that he could have easily just -- just as easily have brought up the name of Dick Gephardt's daughter --
.O'REILLY: Ellen DeGeneres.
WILLIAMS: -- or someone else.
O'REILLY: Right, right.
WILLIAMS: He said it was just a matter of a prominent personality.
O'REILLY: Lotte Lenya. That's another -- she's so -- no. All right. Look, I'm making fun of it, but it's a bunch of bunk, and he made a mistake.
From the October 20, 2004, edition of Fox News's The O'Reilly Factor:
O'REILLY: OK, so Mary was steamed that Senator Kerry would use her as an example of somebody who -- because the original question was whether people were born gay or they acquired the behavior. It's interesting. I didn't feel the way you did. I didn't really feel any way. But E.D. Hill, who does the radio show with me sometimes, she felt exactly the way you did and then we got a bunch of calls. Do you think it is a woman thing more than a man thing?
ELIZABETH CHENEY: I don't. I think it's really across the board and, as I said, it is part of a disturbing pattern now from Senators Kerry and Edwards of really being willing to say absolutely anything and do anything. And if you look at Senator Edwards' comments about, you know, if Senator Kerry were president, [late actor] Christopher Reeve would have been able to get out of his wheelchair and walk again. If you look at what they are doing now in terms of trying to scare people about Social Security, the lies, frankly, they are telling about that, what they are saying about the draft. It's all part of a pattern. It's really disturbing and today's attack by Mrs. [Teresa] Heinz Kerry on Mrs. [Laura] Bush --
O'REILLY: I got to research that. I got to research that a little more.
CHENEY: You got to look at it. It was really stunning.
O'REILLY: Yeah, I will. We have our guys doing it right now, just to see the context of the question. Going after Laura Bush is not a good idea. Obviously going after Mary Cheney wasn't a good idea, but I don't think he went after her. See, I don't think these guys -- and I'm not apologizing for them, by the way, because they are big boys and this was a rehearsed answer. It wasn't off the top of his head because, as you pointed out, Edwards had brought it out before. So, this was like they wanted to do this. If I could ever talk to John Kerry, I would ask him, “Why do you want to do that? What was the point?” But the -- I don't think it was any malice in the remark. I don't think they wanted to make your sister feel bad. I think they were trying to make a point that just backfired on them. Am I wrong?
CHENEY: I think what you saw after the debate with Senator Kerry's campaign chairwoman coming out and saying that Mary Cheney was fair game confirms what seems to be pretty obvious, which is that they were trying to score some political points.
O'REILLY: Fair game is not a thing - Cahill -- right did that, --Mary Beth Cahill. That was not a good phrase either. She's fair game. I understand. I understand, here, you got to be, when you're talking about people's private lives, you've got to be very careful to be respectful. I think that's what it's all about, is it not, Ms. Cheney? Isn't it about respect?
CHENEY: Well, it's all about -- we have really critically important issues facing this nation. The decision we are going to make in about 12 days from now, I think, is the most important in my lifetime. It's a question about who's going to be steadfast, who's going to win the war on terror, who's going to keep this economy growing. Those are the things that we in the Bush-Cheney campaign want to talk about. What we have seen now over the course of about the last 10 days is sort of repeated attacks from the other side on members of the families of the candidates. So, it's truly baffling.