Alan Keyes
Liz vs. Mary: how both Cheneys mistake the "gay marriage" issue
By Alan Keyes
November 28, 2013

[This post takes it for granted that the reader is aware of my carefully reasoned opposition to so-called "gay marriage." I point this out because the first portion of the essay, which deals with the relative weakness of Liz Cheney's response to her sister Mary's "equal rights" position, may at first glance give a contrary impression. Best to follow my reasoning to the end.]

The headline reads: Dick Cheney 'Pained' by Public Flap, Sides with Daughter Liz. The story is about the family feud between U.S. Senate candidate Elizabeth Cheney and her pro-"gay rights" sister Mary, over Liz Cheney's reiterated statements of support for "the traditional definition of marriage." Apparently, the Cheney family's willingness to show, in very public ways, their personal support for Mary Cheney's much-flaunted sexual orientation, isn't reciprocated in the political arena.

I certainly understand the anguish this issue can inflict upon a family. What must make it even more difficult for the Cheney family, however, is the somewhat contradictory character of the pro-marriage stance Liz Cheney is taking in her bid for office.

The American sense of justice is rooted in the notion of equal rights for all. "Gay rights" activists like Mary Cheney take the position that, as a legal institution, marriage is a matter of equal rights. She asserts that it is no more acceptable to deny homosexuals the right to marry on account of their "sexual orientation" than it is to deny blacks the right to vote on account of their skin color.

In the context of this equal rights argument, her sister Liz asserts her personal belief in "traditional" marriage. From Mary Cheney's perspective, it's as if someone were to oppose equal voting rights because of their "personal belief" in racial segregation. In America, a valid claim of fundamental right legally trumps personal beliefs, however longstanding the tradition that indulges them.

Mary Cheney's position casts the issue in terms of justice and injustice. Liz Cheney's position makes it a matter of personal moral sentiment. But are personal moral sentiments any excuse for supporting laws that perpetuate unjust practices? At best, this only makes sense when the force of public feeling makes it impossible to do otherwise.

So Mary Cheney's Facebook response to her sister appears to make some sense: "Liz – this isn't just an issue on which we disagree, you're just wrong – and on the wrong side of history." Now, where history is the judge, laws simply reflect the relative forces that support this or that practice. People may or may not realize it, but when its advocates use the phrase "traditional marriage," they too are referring to the resultant of historical forces. Such are the beliefs and practices that survive simply because they are handed down without question from one generation to the next. (This is literally the meaning of the Latin root of the word "tradition").

Here's where the shoe pinches. According to the American understanding of law and justice, tradition alone cannot be decisive when it comes to issues of right and wrong. Justice must take account of what the Declaration of Independence alludes to as "the laws of nature and of nature's God." Before that higher bar of justice, traditional practices must justify themselves with reasoning, reasoning that is consistent with its timeless and permanent standard of right. This is the fatal weakness of Liz Cheney's response to Mary.

But it is also the fatal flaw in Mary Cheney's assertion of "gay rights" with respect to marriage. For, when it comes to human society, the meaning of marriage, and the right connected with it, are among the first consequences of "the laws of nature and of nature's God." In light of natural right, Liz Cheney is wrong to make marriage a matter of tradition. But Mary Cheney is equally wrong when she makes it a matter of personal freedom. The very idea of the law of nature relates to the fact that there are certain things human beings, as such, are bound to do; certain obligations naturally connected with the existence and perpetuation of humanity, individually and as a whole.

Procreation is self-evidently one of those obligations. When individuals voluntarily choose to follow their natural inclination to fulfill this obligation, they do what is right, not just for themselves or their offspring, but for the species as a whole. Certain special qualities of human nature result in a capacity for self-conscious individual choice. Accordingly, for individuals who deliberately take responsibility for the consequences of procreation, what they do is not just an attribute of their species as a whole. It is their personal belonging, engendered in consequence of their personal decision to conform their way of living to the requirements of survival for the species as a whole.

But this decision is not just an invisible inner determination of their intangible will. It is expressed concretely, through the voluntarily use of their primordial natural possession: the individual physical body, insofar as it informs and is responsive to their will. The traceable connection between their will, their physical actions, and the new instance of human life that results, gives this belonging a concrete certainty that becomes the implicit paradigm for all the severable forms of human property that are grounded in natural right.

The institution of marriage is thus rooted in the natural belonging that arises in connection with accepting the obligation to perpetuate the species. The claims of natural right connected with marriage are logically connected with voluntarily fulfilling this obligation. To be sure, a variety of customs, traditions, and religious disciplines have overlaid this natural right with all kinds of conventional and legal trappings.

But the notion of equal rights involved, for instance, in America's civil rights movement – the notion that Mary Cheney and other "gay rights" advocates rely upon – is not about the laws and trappings that result exclusively from human will and agreement. If it were, justice would be conclusively decided by whatever happened to be the relative disposition of forces at a given moment in history. But the civil rights movement succeeded because people like Martin Luther King changed America's historical disposition, by appealing to a standard of justice beyond merely human will, power, and convention.

This took years of effort aimed at rousing the nation's conscience. One example of that effort is Martin Luther King's famously stirring cry for justice in the Letter from Birmingham City Jail. His argument in that essay makes no sense apart from the appeal it contains to "eternal law and natural law." But the very idea of natural law involves respect for boundaries and relationships laid out in view of what "the moral law or the law of God" ordains. (Quotation marks denote phrases from King's essay.)

But what natural obligation is involved in homosexual relations? Even if, for argument's sake, one accepts the absurd view that the human individual's natural desire for sensual pleasure constitutes a law of nature, humanly speaking, by what reasoning could we reach the conclusion that this imperative of individual pleasure is equal or superior to the natural obligation of procreation? The latter serves and preserves helpless individual humans in their infancy. It also cultivates a capacity for self-sacrifice that contributes to the preservation of the species in innumerable ways, like providing the emotional touchstone of respect for the requirements of human social life. All of this tends to preserve humanity, in the moral as well as physical sense, from extinction.

To be sure, individual human beings who identify themselves as homosexuals may wish to take advantage of opportunities like adoption, available in today's society, to indulge the experience of "parenting." But to harness the force of law, so that this indulgence is poised to usurp the name and rights of the natural family; to abuse the respect for law in order to denigrate the choice that accepts, as a natural obligation, the God-ordained vocation of procreation; and withal to pervert the enforcement of law in order to persecute those who oppose this capital injustice – all this is worse than folly and sly selfishness. It is the deployment of a social weapon of mass destruction aimed at dissolving the existential foundation of human society, while bringing down the ideas of higher law and natural right that are the hallmarks, in particular, of the American way of life.

Too bad Liz Cheney and other such GOP candidates, who seem so determined to exploit conservative voters for political gain, only do so as a matter of personal sentiment and self-justification. Their pose would be more credible if they took the time to digest and articulate the powerful arguments that reasonably justify the decent, thoroughly American common sense of the people they are offering to represent. After all, isn't this one of the services a truly capable representative is supposed to provide?

To see more articles by Dr. Keyes, visit his blog at and his commentary at and

© Alan Keyes


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Alan Keyes

Dr. Keyes holds the distinction of being the only person ever to run against Barack Obama in a truly contested election – featuring authentic moral conservatism vs. progressive liberalism – when they challenged each other for the open U.S. Senate seat from Illinois in 2004... (more)


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