US vice-president Dick and Lynne Cheney overreacted to John Kerry’s mention of their lesbian daughter in last week’s presidential debate, according to American gay rights groups.

During the debate, moderator Bob Schieffer asked Kerry and George Bush if they believed homosexuality was a choice. We’re all God’s children, Bob, and I think if you were to talk to Dick Cheney’s daughter, who is a lesbian, she would tell you that she’s being who she was. She’s being who she was born as, Kerry said.

Following the debate Lynne Cheney said Kerry’s mention of her daughter Mary was a cheap and tawdry political trick.

Dick Cheney also vented his anger over the issue. You saw a man who will say and do anything in order to get elected, he said. And I am not speaking just as a father here, though I am a pretty angry father, but as a citizen.

Kerry responded to the charges by saying, I love my daughters. They love their daughter. I was trying to say something positive about the way strong families deal with this issue.

Executive director of gay rights group GLAAD, Jan M. Garry, supported Kerry’s decision to mention Mary, saying he went out of his way to present us as real people. Bush, on the other hand continued to talk about gay people in the abstract.

I would imagine Kerry is as surprised as I am by the firestorm over his reference to Mary Cheney, Garry said. For anyone to suggest that mentioning us is somehow wrong or off-limits says more about their discomfort with gays and lesbians than it does about Kerry’s decision last night to include and acknowledge us.

Human Rights Campaign executive director Cheryl Jacques also condemned the Cheney attack. Vice-President Cheney first discussed his own daughter in the context of this issue two months ago, and it is not surprising that Senator Kerry mentioned her experience as emblematic of millions of gay Americans, Jacques told The Advocate.

Democrat vice-presidential candidate John Edwards’s wife Elizabeth Edwards said Lynne Cheney had overreacted. I think it indicates a certain degree of shame with respect to her daughter’s sexual preferences, she said.

During the debate Kerry said he believed marriage should only be between a man and a woman, but that gay marriage should be left for the states to decide.

Bush, when asked whether he believed homosexuality was a choice, said, You know, Bob, I don’t know. I just don’t know.

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