Lynne Cheney is furious at Sen. John F. Kerry–and I don’t blame her. During last night’s debate, gratuitously and without a shred of supporting evidence, Kerry remarked that Mary Cheney, Lynne’s and Vice President Dick Cheney’s lesbian daughter, “would probably say she was born that way” (the quote comes from a WBAY-TV news report). What? How would Kerry know?

If I were Mary’s mother, I’d have been purple with rage: How dare does this stranger to my family speculate about what my daughter might be feeling? And Lynne, speaking last night to a crowd of supporters near Pittsburgh, called Kerry’s reference to Mary an invasion of their family’s privacy and “a cheap and tawdry political trick.” As WBAY-TV reported of Lynne:

“She says it gave her another chance to ‘assess’ John Kerry, and she says it only reinforced her opinion that ‘This is not a good man.’ Cheney says she’s ‘speaking as a mom, and a pretty indignant mom.'”

Indignant she should be. Both Kerry and President G.W. Bush were asked if they thought homosexuality was a choice. Bush said he didn’t know–a fair enough answer since it reflects the current state of scientific research. It was Kerry who dropped Mary Cheney’s name into the conversation–and notice that he wasn’t even answering the question, which had nothing to do with Mary Cheney’s beliefs but with Kerry’s own.

This was the second time in a week, of course, that the Democratic team has needlessly brought up Mary Cheney when it was supposed to be debating issues. During last week’s vice presidential debate, Dem. candidate John Edwards said to Dick Cheney out of nowhere, “Congratulations on your gay daughter.” That prompted blogster Mickey Kaus, who’s a Democrat and Kerry-supporter, to comment:

“[I]t was ‘a very thinly disguised way of letting Reagan Democrats (and other conservative-leaning members of the electorate) know that Cheney has a lesbian daughter’ [Mickey is quoting from a reader’s e-mail.]  In other words, a cynical, premeditated appeal to prejudice. You can say it’s an appeal to prejudice that’s justly deserved, because it turns the Republicans’ bigotry against them. But that assumes opposition to gay marriage is now the same thing as general prejudice against gays. Edwards was playing to the latter, uglier sentiment. It’s still creepy. … Just his cold confidence that he could pull the trick off without seeming evil (indeed, while pretending to be friendly) is creepy.”

Today, after Kerry pulled exactly the same trip last night, Mickey goes ballistic (scroll down a bit):

“When I criticized John Edwards for gratuitously mentioning Dick Cheney’s gay daughter, I got lots of email suggesting that Edwards was simply being nice. Sorry, that won’t fly after Kerry bizarrely, needlessly and explicitly raised the subject again (“I think if you were to talk to Dick Cheney’s daughter, who is a lesbian, ….”)  There must be some Machiavellian strategy behind the Democratic urge to keep bringing this up–most likely it’s a poll-tested attempt to cost Bush and Cheney the votes of demographic groups (like Reagan Dems, or fundamentalists) who are hostile to homosexuality or gay culture or who just don’t want to have to think about it. Or maybe Kerry was just trying to throw Bush off stride. In either case, the fake embrace was even creepier coming from Kerry than it was coming from Edwards–Edwards had at least been debating Cheney at the time.”

Then, after the debate, Kerry’s campaign manager, Mary Beth Cahill, declared that there was nothing wrong with what her boss said because Mary Cheney was “fair game.” What? Mary’s not running for anything, and everyone who doesn’t live on the planet Sedna knows she’s a lesbian. Bush hadn’t mentioned Mary. Of course, as Mickey points out, the point of the Kerry/Edwards strategy is probably to unveil some sort of hypocrisy in Bush’s stance against gay marriage. But Mickey, who himself supports same-sex marriage, points out, approval or disapproval of of government-blessed gay unions has nothing to do with one’s attitude toward individual gay people or even gays as a group:

“Kerry was puncturing the ‘hypocrisy’ of Bush’s position, as some Kerry defenders claim, only if the sole reason to oppose gay marriage is homophobia. I support the idea of experimenting with gay marriage, but surely it’s possible to be a non-bigot and be reluctant to immediately tinker with such a venerable social institution (even if modern monogamous marriage is itself a tinkering with the much longer-standing human tradition of polygyny). Once you admit this possibility of non-bigoted reluctance, then Kerry’s move looks less like hypocrisy-puncturing and more like a straight appeal to homophobia. As such, it does no credit to Kerry.”

I agree. There are strong policy arguments both for and against same-sex marriage, and I don’t think that homophobia or its opposite have anything to do with them. But those on both sides of this contentious question ought to be able to agree on one thing: that it’s outrageous to bring up the private lives of a candidate’s children in a debate on policy issues. Lynne Cheney was one angry mother, and I don’t blame her.