All across gay America Wednesday night, activists were playing an impromptu kind of parlor game, watching the Republican Convention to see if vice presidential nominee Dick Cheney's lesbian daughter, Mary, would attend with her partner.
Television cameras captured Mary Cheney, her sister, Elizabeth, and brother-in-law, Phil Perry, laughing and applauding during Cheney's acceptance speech. But the tight camera angle shut out others in their box. For a while, an unidentified woman in a red dress playing with the Cheney grandchildren, sitting to the left of Perry, raised hopes that Cheney's girlfriend had attended the convention, as rumored.
"You see the woman holding the baby?" Human Rights Campaign spokesman David Smith asked. Phone calls were buzzing in from around the country wondering if that could possibly be her. Activists had one photo of the couple to work from, and the woman's hair seemed way too light, but it was hard to rule her out categorically.
So Smith borrowed a seating chart from a reporter, to make sure. And everyone in the box was accounted for; the woman was clearly identified as another member of the family delegation.
Smith was sorely disappointed at the absence of Cheney's life partner from the event.
"It's a shame that Mary's relationship is politically inconvenient, and obviously in the eyes of the Bush campaign, not ready for prime time," Smith said. "It completely unmasks the veil of inclusion put forth by the Bush campaign that everyone is included and welcome. Obviously Mary Cheney's family is not welcome in the box. Elizabeth's family is on display for everyone to see."
Smith noted that in years past, the vice presidential nominee's whole family joined him on stage at the end of the speech, but after Cheney's speech, only his wife, Lynne, came up.
"Every convention I can remember, Democrat or Republican, the vice presidential nominee has had their entire family on stage: You see cousins and aunts and uncles -- the only explanation is because of Mary.
"Isn't this an obvious exclusion? They're going through tremendous contortions to hide it. Because this family is not palatable to the conservative right. That's a huge departure."
Bush defenders denied the campaign had objections to Mary Cheney's sexual orientation. "Governor Bush wouldn't have selected Dick Cheney as his running mate if he had a problem with it," Pat Harrison, co-chair of the Republican National Committee, told Salon.
But even as Mary Cheney's life partner was being kept off stage at the Republican Convention, USA Today posted her name on its Web site Wednesday night. At least a few other news organizations, including Salon, have withheld the widely available name as well as a photo of the couple, because it could not be ascertained how open Cheney's girlfriend is about her sexual orientation and her relationship with the vice presidential nominee's daughter. Friends say the woman is out at work, but no one could confirm she is out to her family.
The Mary Cheney story may be the most overreported yet undercovered story in political history. Friends of Cheney say they've been contacted by numerous reporters, and some have even stopped giving interviews. Yet only a handful of publications have written about the issue of the former defense secretary's lesbian daughter.
Writing in the New Republic, Andrew Sullivan blasted the double standard that has kept the media, and the Republican Party, quiet on the story.
"How does Cheney square [his anti-gay voting record] with his belief that his gay daughter, Mary, is 'wonderful,' 'decent,' and 'hard-working'? I don't know, because the media, which evidently still doesn't regard gay rights as central to our politics, has barely asked ... The New York Times, for all its pretensions to have left homophobia behind, has barely touched the subject. The Washington Post buried it."
Smith also questioned the media's reluctance to delve into the Mary Cheney story. "They have to my knowledge been out and open and part of the Denver gay/lesbian community. This is not a family that has pulled back behind the veil of privacy until Secretary Cheney was nominated as vice president. This is privacy based on convenience. It's politically inconvenient for Mary Cheney to be in a relationship with a woman."
On the convention floor, every Republican interviewed in the delegations for Texas and Colorado -- where Cheney lives with her girlfriend, in Conifer, 25 miles from Denver -- tried to express their tolerance for Cheney's daughter's "lifestyle," even if they didn't approve.
Even delegates from Texas -- which drew attention Tuesday when delegation members bowed their heads in prayer as openly gay Rep. Jim Kolbe, R-Ariz., gave a speech on trade -- were reluctant to criticize Mary Cheney or the selection of Dick Cheney as Bush's running mate.
Dianne Edmondson of Denton, Texas, says she, too, prayed during Kolbe's speech Tuesday, though she was "not necessarily protesting. I asked that God show him the straight and narrow way."
On the subject of Dick Cheney's lesbian daughter, Edmondson said: "There's a big difference between an elected official being gay and someone's child -- we don't even know if she wanted to go public with it. I believe you love the sinner and hate the sin.
"There are lots of people within the party who I don't agree with," Edmondson continued. "In the end, we all want the same thing -- the election of George W. Bush."
"If she were speaking about these matters on stage, I'd be highly offended," said Bobby Eberle of Houston. "The GOP doesn't support that kind of activity. But Bush picked Dick Cheney because of his long history of public service." Eberle said he sat "silently and respectfully" through Kolbe's speech.
Sharon Johnson, a Colorado delegate from Denver, said "I admire the Cheneys. I had no idea they had a lesbian daughter. I would hate to have homosexuals come into the schools and teach homosexuality, but if she chooses to be a lesbian, that's her business. If she would go into schools and try to tell my grandchildren or sanction it," that wouldn't be acceptable.
But Nancy Beddingfield of Jewett, Texas, who owns a 2,500 acre farm with over 600 cows and calves and describes herself as being "as Texan as anyone on this delegation," believes the revelation that Cheney's daughter is gay will "show the diversity of the party. If that had been a problem for Bush, he never would have considered it. They may have discussed it, they may not have. If they [gays] contribute to the country, then it's fine."