CHENEY BACKS MARRIAGE EQUALITY?…. It was pretty meaningless to hear Meghan McCain urge her Republican Party to come around on gay marriage.* It seemed a bit more important when Steve Schmidt, John McCain’s campaign manager, gave the GOP the same advice.

But in terms of influence in Republican politics, Dick Cheney is on another level.

Dick Cheney rarely takes a position that places him at a more progressive tilt than President Obama. But on Monday, the former vice president did just that, saying that he supports gay marriage as long as it is deemed legal by state and not federal government.

Speaking at the National Press Club for the Gerald R. Ford Foundation journalism awards, Cheney was asked about recent rulings and legislative action in Iowa and elsewhere that allowed for gay couples to legally wed.

“I think that freedom means freedom for everyone,” replied the former V.P. “As many of you know, one of my daughters is gay and it is something we have lived with for a long time in our family. I think people ought to be free to enter into any kind of union they wish. Any kind of arrangement they wish. The question of whether or not there ought to be a federal statute to protect this, I don’t support. I do believe that the historically the way marriage has been regulated is at the state level. It has always been a state issue and I think that is the way it ought to be handled, on a state-by-state basis. … But I don’t have any problem with that. People ought to get a shot at that.”

I recall several instances in which Cheney endorsed civil unions for same-sex couples, but these remarks, expressing support for states that have legalized gay marriage, seem to go further.

In February, RNC Chairman Michael Steele was asked whether the party might consider a more tolerant approach to the issue and support civil unions. He replied, “What are you, crazy? No.”

Well, now Cheney not only supports civil unions, but is also fine with states supporting marriage equality. Does Steele think he’s crazy?

Post Script: Not all of Cheney’s remarks at the Press Club were encouraging. He also talked, for example, about “the relationship” between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein’s regime. Some things never change.

* Update: For reasons I did not expect and did not intend, this offended Meghan McCain. I have a follow-up post here.

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.