Dealing a defeat to liberal activists, the U.S. Senate voted Tuesday not to shut off debate and proceed to consideration of the 2011 defense authorization bill. Three Democrats joined 40 Republicans in refusing to invoke cloture on the bill, inflicting a rare loss on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and his strategy to limit opportunities for amending a measure laden with social issues.

The social issues all emanated from Democratic-sponsored amendments on such controversial topics as elective abortion policy, immigration reform, and the military policy on service by homosexual persons, better known as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT).

Under the rule Reid favored, supporters of the current law on service by homosexual persons would be permitted to offer only one amendment to retain or modify the policy. The one-and-done rule was clearly unpopular with respect to a proposal about which there are many questions, including the future of military family benefits, the religious liberty of military chaplains, and recruitment and retention policies and practices. In this case, and for the time being at least, Congress has wisely chosen not to pass a major reform and then determine its impacts later.

Unless Reid exercises his prerogative and moves to reconsider the vote not to proceed on the defense bill (he voted with the Republicans on Tuesday in order to preserve this procedural right), it would appear that the repeal of DADT will not happen anytime soon. Even in a lame duck session of Congress, the agenda for action by a fading liberal majority is potentially crowded with other issues. Despite this fact—and perhaps only as a palliative measure for interest groups dismayed by today’s vote—Reid is reportedly open to a lame duck vote on the repeal.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon’s report on the current policy is due December 1. Questions continue to be raised about the depth of opposition within the Armed Forces to any change in the policy and the law on which it is based, with calls for the Pentagon to complete its study before any change is considered.

Adding further complications is the activist ruling by a federal district judge in California that the military policy on service by homosexual persons is unconstitutional. The Obama Administration has not announced whether it intends to appeal the ruling, which it defended poorly at the trial level.

The American people deserve a better showing by their representatives in Washington than the rush to judgment Senator Reid attempted this week. Congress should continue to heed the advice of the nation’s military leaders (including President Obama’s own choice to lead the Marine Corps) who have consistently called on legislators to delay action until the review now underway is complete. Prejudicing that review in any way—either by repealing the current law or omitting a complete account of the Pentagon’s findings—poorly serves all those who serve in uniform.