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Cheney Defends Gay Rights Stance; GOP Right Objects


BEND, Ore. — Republican vice presidential candidate Dick Cheney stood his ground Monday in the face of sharp criticism by some conservative Christians who say his tolerance for gay relationships is directly at odds with the beliefs of some of the party's most stalwart supporters.

"My position is unchanged," he said on his campaign plane, although he added that his running mate, George W. Bush, would set policy on the issue--not him--and that he would defer to Bush's judgment.

Cheney refused to elaborate, declining to say whether his opinions had been influenced by his daughter Mary, who is gay.

"She is entitled to her privacy," he said. "That's where I've been all along since I accepted the assignment and I'm not going to change now."

During last week's vice presidential debate, Cheney was asked if he believed gays and lesbians should have "all the constitutional rights enjoyed by every American citizen."

"I think we ought to do everything we can to tolerate and accommodate whatever kind of relationships people want to enter into," Cheney responded, although he said the issue of gay marriages was "a tougher problem."

He said he believes that issue should be left to the states to decide.

Cheney said Monday he had answered the question "truthfully and accurately."

Criticism of Cheney's comments has been bubbling within Christian conservative groups ever since the debate. The anger became public Sunday with an op-ed piece in the New York Times by former Republican presidential hopeful Gary Bauer.

"I can say with certainty that the delegates who nominated Mr. Cheney and the many voters who support him overwhelmingly disagree with that," Bauer wrote. "This view, embraced by both vice presidential candidates, is wrong--and out of step with the beliefs of the many Americans who consider marriage to be a God-ordained institution between a man and a woman."

Asked about Bauer's piece, Cheney said: "I don't pay any attention."

The Rev. Jerry Falwell, the founder of the Moral Majority, added his voice to the criticism on Monday. "I disagree with Mr. Cheney on his suggestion that the states should be allowed to sanction any relationship they wish," said Falwell, who supports the GOP ticket. Cheney "could have given a firmer and stronger answer."

Cheney also dismissed Monday's praise of his remarks by the Human Rights Campaign, a leading gay rights group in Washington.

"Dick Cheney has taken a big step forward by breaking ranks with the extreme right in the GOP by recognizing that gay and lesbian families have a place in America and that these relationships should be respected," said Winnie Stachelberg, the group's political director.

Cheney noted that the same group had criticized him and his daughter during the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia. He said: "I don't pay any attention to them."

The issue of gay rights has been delicate for Cheney--who has a record as a staunch conservative but who has been more moderate in his comments about gays and lesbians. During his years as Defense secretary, he supported his spokesman, Pete Williams, when the media reported that he was gay.

Cheney has said that a desire to protect his daughter's privacy contributed to his decision to forgo a run for the presidency in 1996. Soon after he agreed to join the Republican ticket in late July, news that his daughter was an open lesbian was reported. Mary, 31, her father's personal assistant on the campaign, had recently left a job at Coors Brewing Co. in Denver, where she was a liaison to the gay and lesbian community.

After Bush named Cheney as his running mate, some gay activists--including the Human Rights Campaign--accused him of hypocrisy for joining the ticket of a party with a strong stand against gay rights.

The Republican Party platform diverges starkly from Cheney's call for tolerance, and Bush has opposed adoption by gay couples. The platform says marriage is the "legal union of one man and one woman" and "homosexuality is incompatible with military service." It also opposes "special legal protection or standing in law" based on "sexual preference."


Times staff writer Michael Finnegan contributed to this story.

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