Friends of Mary Cheney say she's poised to take a key, daily role in her father Dick's vice presidential bid, even as questions about her sexual orientation continue to stir the placid waters of this week's Republican convention.
Cheney's life partner is also said to be on her way to Philadelphia or already there. "She is going to become part of the media frenzy," says one friend. It is unclear whether the girlfriend will join Mary Cheney on the platform when her father formally accepts the Republican nomination Wednesday night, or when he joins George W. Bush for final convention photo opportunities on Thursday.
A colleague confirmed that Mary Cheney has formally postponed graduate school and will take a leading role in her father's campaign. "She is going to work as his personal aide -- be the body man, so to speak -- the person who stays with the candidate all the time," the source said.
The Bush campaign has mostly ducked questions about the role of Cheney and her girlfriend at the convention, deferring to the Cheney family's desire for "privacy." Although the Drudge Report has repeatedly quoted unnamed Bush sources as saying Cheney would be "embraced," and welcomed at the convention with her partner, no Bush source has yet confirmed that on the record.
The issue got dicier Sunday, when Mary Cheney's mother Lynne scolded ABC's Cokie Roberts for raising the question of her daughter's sexuality, and denied that Mary -- an open lesbian who worked as the gay relations manager for Coors Brewing -- had ever declared she was openly gay. Many friends have stepped forward to confirm that Cheney is in fact openly gay.
A college classmate of Cheney's said she was out of the closet as far back as that time. "In personal conversation, she would never hide her sexuality, but she was not politically active around lesbian and gay issues," the classmate said.
Cheney never broadcast her sexuality, the classmate added, but word traveled fast. "She was a celebrity in the sense that she was the defense secretary's daughter. She's always been in the spotlight. It was widely known."
Many gay advocates saw Lynne Cheney's call for privacy Sunday as a variation on the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy, forcing Mary Cheney back into the closet.
"Lynne Cheney has no problem talking about her daughter who's married and has children, and that's not private, but Mary's relationship is," complained David Smith of the Human Rights Campaign. "There's a double standard." Mary Cheney's sister, Elizabeth, is expected to join the family on the podium Wednesday night.
On the other hand, some gays defend Lynne Cheney. "She said she loves her daughter, she was very supportive of her daughter," Rep. Jim Kolbe (R-Ariz.), a Tuesday night convention speaker, told Salon.
"I'm sure she views it as a private matter and would prefer that it not be public," he added. "But obviously it's reality and something that they're going to have to deal with and acknowledge it."
On the far right, the issue is being defined in terms of privacy and decorum, not homophobia. A fairly typical post on the Web site Free Republic read: "What these Gay Terrorists fail to understand is that Lynne Cheney is a LADY. Ladies don't talk about ANYONES sex life to the news media, especially their childrens... DUH! These idiots will never figure out that most of us don't care what they do in the PRIVACY of their homes. We do care when they get in our face about it and wish they would shut the hell up and mind their own business!!!"
Meanwhile, many gay activists say the media's handling of the Mary Cheney story has become as interesting as the story itself. "The agony that every news organization has been going through in terms of how to report this story is unbelievable," says David Smith.
"For the most part, I think they don't know how to cover an openly gay person. They expect a gay person has to make some sort of pronouncement somewhere."
Some gays have asked how Mary Cheney could stump for a ticket antagonistic to gay rights. But others say Cheney herself is fairly conservative.
"There's nothing that Mary has ever said that seems incongruous with the ideology of her family," says Katherine Pease, executive director of the Gill Foundation, who has worked with Cheney professionally.
"In fact, everything that she did say to me seemed generally in line with her family's policies. And I think that really just emphasizes and stresses the fact that ideological backgrounds vary within the lesbian and gay community."