Thomas Roberts Fails to Tell Viewers Liz Cheney Wants States to Decide Gay Marriage

During his 11 a.m. time slot on Tuesday, MSNBC’s Thomas Roberts reported on the same-sex marriage policy rift between former Vice President Dick Cheney’s two daughters. However, the veteran journalist omitted one critical aspect of Liz Cheney’s position on same-sex marriage – namely, that she believes marriage should be decided by the states through either popular ballot initiative or state legislative action.

Roberts announced, “[Liz Cheney] said in a statement Friday that she is not pro-gay marriage and this prompted her younger sister to respond in a Facebook post saying, in part, I love my sister, but she is dead wrong on the issue of marriage. Freedom means freedom for everyone.


Cheney’s statement came in response to a push poll that had asked potential voters if they knew that she supports abortion and “aggressively promotes” gay marriage. Roberts acknowledged the push poll, but he didn’t mention the rest of Cheney’s statement. After stating that she is “not pro-gay marriage,” Cheney continued: “ I believe the issue of marriage must be decided by the states, and by the people in the states – not by judges and not even by legislators, but by the people themselves.”

That is hardly an anti-gay marriage stance, but Roberts presented it that way. He pitted Mary Cheney, a married lesbian who obviously favors gay marriage, against Liz Cheney, who is “not pro-gay marriage.” That phrase in isolation makes it sound like Liz is against gay marriage, when in reality she takes a perfectly federalist stance on the issue: leave it up to the states.

Liberal journalists too often ignore the states’ rights argument in the same-sex marriage debate. Roberts and others want to paint the debate as gay marriage supporters versus opponents – those tolerant souls who want to guarantee “marriage equality” for every American versus bigots who want to deny marriage to every homosexual. But in between those two extremes are the people like Liz Cheney who want gay marriage to be left up to the states. Such a stance recognizes that Americans disagree on the issue, but holds that one’s person’s opinion should not be foisted on the entire country. Cheney’s position, in other words, is entirely consistent with a free society.

But don’t expect MSNBC to explore the nuances of the gay marriage debate when they can too easily portray it as civil rights crusaders against old-fashioned bigots.

Below is a transcript of the segment:

MSNBC Live
09/03/13
11:51

THOMAS ROBERTS: All right, so the issue of marriage equality is pitting sisters from one of the biggest political families against each other. Liz and Mary Cheney, daughters of former vice president Dick Cheney, are in a war of words over marriage equality. Mary is a lesbian and married her longtime partner last year. Liz is running for the U.S. Senate seat in Wyoming and since Friday had been relatively silent on the issue of marriage equality. But she was forced to respond to an apparent push poll in her revealing stance on that issue in itself. She said in a statement Friday that she is not pro-gay marriage and this prompted her younger sister to respond in a Facebook post saying, in part, I love my sister, but she is dead wrong on the issue of marriage. Freedom means freedom for everyone.

Now this family feud mirrors the broader fight within the Republican Party as a whole over marriage equality, and joining me now is Pat Brady. Pat is the former chair of the Republican Party who was ousted for supporting the state's marriage equality bill and he’s now been hired by the ACLU to lobby fellow Republicans in the Illinois House to help pass that bill. Pat, it's great to have you here, and marriage equality appears to be the real dividing issue within your party socially right now and there are still only three Republican senators supporting it after the Supreme Court's ruling on this matter. So walk us through what led to your ouster after voicing support for marriage equality in Illinois.

PAT BRADY: Well, Thomas, it's been a long held belief of mine that this is the right thing to do and that marriage equality should be the law under a constitutional analysis or just the right-thing- to-do analysis. And there were some members of our board of directors, the central committee didn’t like that and they ousted me, but I think the bigger story is it's a healthy debate that the Republican Party, both at the national and the local level here, is having in Illinois about marriage equality and it shows that we’re not a monolithic party. We all don't think the same. And even in the Cheney family they’re having a debate about marriage equality. But I long believed the true conservative position is if the government’s going to be involved in marriage, you can't let 99 percent of the people do it and 1 percent not. And I think that is a true conservative position. And I think – I feel good about what's going on here in Illinois. There is a good strong coalition across the board of Republicans and Democrats and financial supporters who want to see this done here in the Land of Lincoln. We were founded, the Republican Party, as an abolitionist party just a couple blocks from where I’m sitting. So I feel good about it but a little debate is healthy and I think in the long run the Republican Party nationally and here in Illinois will be a lot stronger.



ROBERTS: And it is interesting, as we look at how the Cheney family is really putting Liz as the odd woman out. Mary obviously supports it. Mr. and Mrs. Cheney support marriage equality. As we look at Illinois, the state in and of itself, if it passes, the marriage equality bill, it becomes the 14th state to do so. You took a big political gamble. So how will you convince House Republicans in Illinois to take a political risk and vote in favor of marriage equality when the bill comes up in the fall session?
BRADY: I don't want to get too sanctimonious about it, but it's not a political gamble to do the right thing. I know there are a lot of Republicans and others that want to do the right thing on this issue. And there is, as I mentioned before, a huge coalition here in Illinois that are going to support Republicans that do the right thing on this issue in the primaries. So I think there are a lot of people, we have new leadership in the House that I think are going to take a look at it and I think a lot of them are going to do the right thing. I feel really good about it. But it's not a political gamble, I don't think, to do the right thing.

ROBERTS: Well, best of luck to you as you start this new career path with the ACLU and we will look to see where Illinois falls in the fall when it comes to marriage equality. Illinois Republican Party Chair – former one –  Pat Brady. Pat, great to have you on. Thank you, sir.

Paul Bremmer
Paul Bremmer is a Media Research Center News Analysis Division intern.