Congratulations to Billie Jean King and to Harvey Milk (posthumously) for receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom. I figure these medals, though deserved by the recipients, cost the gay-rights movement about $5 million each.
We were told in 2006 that we needed a Democratic Congress to pass gay-rights legislation. We got one and nothing much happened. Two years later, we were told we needed a filibuster-proof Senate majority. It was delivered, but nothing valuable is passing the Senate. We were told we needed a Democratic president. We elected one and nothing's moving. It wasn't enough. It will never be enough. The problem is not that the Democratic Party is useless, at least not completely. (And useless is still better than hostile.) The problem is not that the president has more important things to do, though he does.
The core of the problem is that every "gay rights" measure is still viewed by politicians, political pundits, and the most energized actvists on both sides, as liberal. That's true even where majorities tell pollsters they support the measure, as with passing ENDA and repealing DADT. Liberals are proud gay rights is their cause. Conservatives are delighted it's not. The association of gay rights and liberalism is easy and unquestioned across the political spectrum -- the last bastion of bipartisan consensus.
But as the healthcare debate is reminding us, this is not a left or even center-left country. We may have a Democratic majority in Congress, but we don't have a liberal majority. We haven't had one since 1965. If we didn't get one after the misrule of the past few years, we aren't going to get one. So electing more Democrats is not the answer, or at least not the whole of the answer. Building grand progressive coalitions is not the answer.
We must break the consensus about gay rights. We must challenge the assumption that gays are just the next group with a list of demands. The political culture must come to see military service by gays as patriotic and honorable, which it is, not as a civil right or as a social experiment, which it is not. It must see gay marriage as an embrace of responsibility and tradition, which it is, not as hedonism or as yet more sexual license, which it is not. It must see gay rights not as left, but as right.