Mary Cheney Opens Up on Dad, Gay Marriage
The Vice President's daughter for the first time talks about being a gay Republican
Mary Cheney, the first openly gay daughter of a U.S. Vice President, is ready to talk – but on her terms. In her new book, Now It’s My Turn: A Daughter’s Chronicle of Political Life, Cheney, 37, finally speaks out on being a George Bush Republican; a supporter of gay marriage; a devoted partner to Heather Poe, 45; and a target of the public eye (“You have to do what you’re going to do, and do what you know is right,” she says).
Last year, Cheney – an executive at AOL – moved closer to the political realm, settling outside Washington, D.C., with Poe. In her first print interview, she gives PEOPLE an inside glimpse of her homelife and a behind-the-scenes look at working on Dad’s campaigns.
Why write a book after avoiding the spotlight for so long?
It’s been six years since my dad was first chosen to be the running mate. In that time, everybody from presidential candidates to activists on the far right and on the far left to the mainstream media have offered up their opinions regarding me, my family and my point of view. Like the title of the book says, now it’s my turn.
Did you keep a journal while working for your dad during the 2000 and 2004 presidential campaigns? How did you recall so much detail?
I wish I were that organized. I’d get my mom, dad and sister all sitting around the table at the VPR (Vice President’s Residence) and go down memory lane. It actually was a lot of fun. My parents were completely encouraging.
Your mother, Lynne, also is a published author. Did she give you advice?
She was the best advisor, mentor, teacher I could have had. My mom was a great source of inspiration. We’ve had disagreements over serial commas, but that’s about it.
What in the book will surprise the reader?
The notion that I was muzzled somehow, that people kept me from talking during the campaign. One thing that comes through in the book is the truth. I didn’t speak out during the campaign because, quite frankly, I thought it would be inappropriate.
Any other surprises?
A lot of people have the idea that political campaigns are these well-oiled machines. There are a lot of misadventures and missed opportunities on the way. One huge missed opportunity I talk about in the book is the debate I arranged between my mother and Teresa Heinz Kerry. That would have rivaled the Lincoln-Douglas debates.
You were director of vice presidential operations on the 2004 Bush-Cheney campaign, but you didn’t agree when President Bush announced his support for the Federal Marriage Amendment to ban same-sex marriages?
When President Bush endorsed the Federal Marriage Amendment, he let me know he would understand if I wanted to put out a statement. For me, that would have been so inappropriate. I signed on to be a staffer; I didn’t sign on to express my own point of view.
But now you can state your opinion on same sex marriage?
I am in favor of legalized same sex marriage. I make it clear in the book I passionately disagree with President Bush on the issue of the Federal Marriage Amendment. But I also make it very clear that I had no doubt, even with that disagreement, that President Bush was the absolute best person to be leading us at this time in our country’s history. It would be great to have the luxury of being a one-issue voter, but I didn’t, and quite frankly, I don’t think our country does.
Is there a wedding in your future?
From my perspective and Heather’s perspective, we already are married. We’ve built a life together. We’ve built a home together. She’s the person I want to spend the rest of my life with. The way I look at it, the laws just haven’t caught up with us yet.
Do you plan on having a family?
That’s one Heather and I are going to have to talk about before I can tell you.
You and Heather love to scuba dive. What happened when you were on the island of Bonaire diving on Sept. 11, 2001?
I remember it was an amazing dive. There were a couple of cuttlefish we followed for a ways. We came back up and were getting ready to go to the second dive site and here comes this minivan tearing down the road. I turn to Heather and say that (it) kind of looks like the (secret service) agents. At which point you hear screeching and the van does a U-turn and comes back to us. One of the agents jumps out of it and says something has happened, we’ve got to go. And that’s all he said. I thought something had happened to my dad. You’re just so stunned, you don’t ask. It’s something you never think is going to happen.
So you didn’t know for a while if your dad was okay?
We got in the van. I was in a wet suit. They took us back to the hotel and told us planes had flown into the World Trade Center and there’d been an attack on the Pentagon. We turned on the TV as the second tower fell. It was an hour or two to find out that they (her parents) were okay. I talked to my mom first. I talked to my dad about an hour later.
How did it feel to hear their voices?
Relief. Especially talking to my dad. As soon as I talked to my dad, I knew everything was going to be okay. He’s just the most even keeled person in the world. He knows where you have to go and he’s going to get there. He knows what has to be done.
How did you get back to the U.S.?
No one knew how to get us out of Bonaire. All the flights were shut down and Heather and I had been diving and usually you are not allowed to fly for 24 hours after you’ve been diving. We stayed there a couple more days and they eventually sent a customs plane for us back to D.C.
What is a typical day like for you now, compared to the hectic life you led on the campaign trail?
It’s much saner. During the campaign, I was living here (in Washington) but Heather was still living in Colorado, and I was going home on weekends. Now I get up in the morning and usually go to the gym or for a bike ride and go to (the) office at AOL. I come home and maybe take the dogs (two Labs) for a walk. And that’s about as exciting as it gets.
Your home life sounds wonderfully normal.
It is. It’s wonderful.
You met Heather playing ice hockey?
I was a goalie and she was a defenseman. I think she scored on her first shot because I was really bad.
What do you and Heather do for fun?
It’s usually an outdoor activity. We both love the mountains. We both love to snowboard, and out here we’ve done a lot of mountain biking. Now we’re going to get into kayaking.
How about fishing with your dad?
Growing up, probably about once year starting when I was 12, my dad I would go on pack trips through Wyoming. I was maybe 3 when my (paternal) grandma first put a spinning reel in my hand. My dad’s the one who taught me how to fly fish.
He also taught you to hunt?
My dad and I go hunting a couple of times a year for pheasant and quail.
Who bags more?
That is the source of constant father-daughter competition.
You’ve also been remodeling your home. How’s it going?
The first thing to go was the pink shag carpet. Heather is doing a lot of the work herself. She and my mom have these lengthy conversations. They ordered the furniture for our living room. I’m sure it will look wonderful.
Your dad reportedly is the family chef. Do you take after him?
I love to cook. I am really good at turkey. My dad taught me how to do his turkey with all the trimmings and all the stuffing and potatoes from scratch and giblet gravy. I haven’t mastered my dad’s spaghetti sauce yet. He pretty much does it by feel. Usually the rule is the more garlic, the better.
Do you see herself carrying on the family political tradition?
I did not get that bug.
Now that you’re speaking out about same-sex marriage, will you become more of an activist and take to the ramparts?
I’m not a ramparts kind of girl. I have respect for anyone who is an activist on any issue, anyone who believes in an issue and wants to direct their time and energy toward that single issue, but that’s not the path for me. I think my contribution comes from being just the best person I can be. And a big part of that is being open and honest about who I am.
To read an excerpt from Mary Cheney’s book, Now It’s My Turn, pick up this week’s issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday.