Mark the date March 21, 2010, on your calendar. That's the day the great Obama health-care reform finally passed Congress. It's also the day that any realistic hope of passing significant gay-rights measures at the federal level died until at least 2013.
President Obama showed what a determined Democratic president and large congressional majority could do in the face of unified political opposition, powerful interests standing in the way, and the mobilization of the most energized and angry portion of the American public. When a president cares about something - really cares about it - he uses the bully pulpit in tandem with the political muscle and control of legislative procedure that a congressional majority gives him and he gets it done. That's what presidential leadership looks like.
But the fact is, the Democrats have now spent whatever political capital they had remaining for the passage of unpopular liberal-identified causes. They have called in all their chits. They have pulled out all the stops. Use whatever hackneyed phrase you like, but it all comes to this: They are done.
All of the liberal constituencies that make up the Democratic Party - environmentalists, gun-control enthusiasts, abortion-rights advocates, financial-reform supporters, and yes, gay-rights activists - will now be told that the urgent necessity is to focus on the fall election and that, for now at least, their pet causes must be subordinated to that larger goal. So sorry.
It's not as if gay-rights measures were headed anywhere fast before yesterday. Nobody is talking about repealing any part of the Defense of Marriage Act these days. Remember the president running on that?
Repealing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" has been put off for at least a year and the White House is in no mood to have it brought up before then. Fat chance getting it done after November.
Even the most innocuous and politically popular measure that even pre-election Obama skeptics like me thought would happen, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, has been delayed time after time. It's not clear it can pass the House with "gender identity" included, which gay groups are once again insisting upon. It's even more doubtful that supporters can round up 60 votes in the Senate for it, with or without protection for transgendered people.
After the November election, all of this legislation now on life support - to the extent it has any life left at all - will have the feeding tubes pulled out and the respirator turned off. The urgent necessity then, we will be told, is re-electing the president.
Then, in 2013, if he is re-elected, and if he has sufficiently large majorities in Congress, we get to start the cycle again.
UPDATE: A reader emphasizes a reasonable point: it's not as if the Democrats were making gay-rights measures a priority before health-reform passed, so what difference has passage made? The difference, I think, is that without this signature accomplishment the president and Congress would feel somewhat greater pressure to do something for various constituencies. Now they can say: "We've accomplished the liberal dream of the past century. Leave us alone until after the next election."