Given the timing, it's hard to view the executive order signed Wednesday by President Barack Obama extending some benefits to domestic partners of federal employees as more than an attempt to appease a gay community unhappy with the White House's seeming indifference to its cause.
Certainly the decision is helpful for gay federal workers, but it's also overdue and inadequate - it does not, for example, include full health benefits. Many companies have already done more, and so have a growing number of states, cities and towns. Gov. Martin O'Malley extended benefits to same-sex partners of Maryland state employees earlier this year.
Mr. Obama pledged to fight on behalf of gays and lesbians during the campaign but has failed to advance virtually any cause important to that community since taking office - even as much of the nation appears to be moving faster than expected toward same-sex marriage. This limited embrace of federal benefits, even if only a first step, is hardly a courageous stand.
The White House may not want to see the Obama agenda derailed by issues of gay rights, much as President Bill Clinton was distracted by how to deal with gays in the military early in his first term. But this is not 1993, and the Clinton "don't ask, don't tell" doctrine seems particularly creaky.
Indeed, the president's decision seems particularly inadequate given that it will apply to the Defense Department's civilian personnel but offers nothing for the men and women in uniform. As a candidate, Mr. Obama may have spoken out against the military's code of silence, but as president he's done nothing to change that hypocritical policy.
What has particularly enraged many in the gay community is the administration's choice to file a brief in federal court in support of the Defense of Marriage Act. That may reflect tradition (administrations usually back federal laws when challenged), but the action underscores Mr. Obama's cautious approach to gay rights: During the campaign, he vowed to repeal the 13-year-old law that prevents the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriage for any purpose.
Will broadening federal benefits put Mr. Obama back in the good graces of those gay political fundraisers who had recently withdrawn their support? That's clearly the intent. Too bad it took that kind of political threat to push the White House into doing the right, and overdue, thing for government employees.