WASHINGTON — Former Vice President Dick Cheney waded into another roiling public debate Monday, saying he supports same-sex marriage as long as the issue is decided by states rather than the federal government.
Cheney, whose youngest daughter has a longtime lesbian partner, said at the National Press Club that "people ought to be free to enter into any kind of union they wish, any kind of arrangement they wish."
But he does not support a federal role in the matter: "Historically, the way marriage has been regulated is at the state level," Cheney said. "It has always been a state issue, and I think that is the way it ought to be handled, on a state-by-state basis."
Cheney also defended the Bush administration's decision to invade Iraq in 2003, despite faulty intelligence about its nuclear weapons program and links to the Sept. 11 attacks. He asserted that Saddam Hussein could have helped terrorists acquire nuclear weapons.
Once the U.S. invaded, it could find no evidence of an active Iraqi nuclear weapons program.
On Monday, Cheney disavowed intelligence reports he once cited suggesting that Hussein had collaborated with Al Qaeda on Sept. 11.
The information "turned out not to be true," Cheney said. He added that a long-standing relationship existed between Hussein and terrorist groups, including Al Qaeda, that justified the U.S. invasion.
"There was a relationship between Al Qaeda and Iraq that stretched back 10 years," Cheney said. "That's not something I made up."
Citing 2002 Senate testimony by George J. Tenet, then the CIA director, Cheney said, "We know for a fact that Saddam Hussein was a state sponsor of terrorism."
On whether Hussein helped Al Qaeda carry out the 2001 terrorist attacks, Cheney said, "I do not believe, and I have never seen any evidence, that he was involved in 9/11."
Several months after the attacks, Cheney said it was "pretty well" confirmed that Mohamed Atta, one of the leaders of the attack, had met with a senior Iraqi intelligence official in Prague, Czech Republic, in April 2000, according to a Washington Post account. Cheney later said there was no proof of such a meeting, the Post said.
The presidential commission that investigated the Sept. 11 attacks concluded in 2004 that meetings or contacts between Al Qaeda and Iraqi officials didn't result in collaboration between the terrorist group and Hussein's regime.
Cheney has emerged as a leading critic of the Obama administration. He spent most of his Press Club appearance reiterating his defense of the Bush administration. He was asked about same-sex marriage during a question-and-answer session.
Cheney has long departed from conservative orthodoxy on the issue. He said during the 2000 presidential campaign that same-sex marriage should be left to the states, and he caused a small uproar during the 2004 race by appearing to distance himself from a proposed constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage, strongly supported by President George W. Bush.
Cheney's position appears to put him to the left of the current president on the issue. President Obama has said he supports civil unions, rather than marriage, for gay and lesbian couples.
As he has in the past, Cheney cited his family's experience as informing his position. "As many of you know, one of my daughters is gay, and it is something we have lived with for a long time in our family," he said.
Cheney's youngest daughter, Mary, gave birth to a son in 2007 with her partner, Heather Poe. Mary and her sister Elizabeth have been prominent supporters of the Republican Party and its causes, although Mary has said in interviews that she considered quitting the Bush reelection campaign in 2004 over the marriage issue.