Senate Republicans on Tuesday blocked the Obama administration's effort to end the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy that prevents openly gay and lesbian Americans from serving in the armed forces.
Democrats failed to find the 60 votes needed to begin debate of the 2011 Defense Authorization bill that includes language to repeal the Clinton-era rule on gays and lesbians in the military.
The 56-43 vote followed party lines, with Republicans threatening to filibuster, and two Democratic Sens., Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor of Arkansas, supporting Republicans in opposing debate on the bill.
"Republicans are again playing politics with our national security," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Ried (D-Nevada) "Today they blocked the Senate from debating a bill that would give our troops the resources they need to keep America safe - stopping not only funding for combat vehicles and bulletproof vests or measures to improve our military's readiness, but even a well-earned pay raise to help our troops and their families make ends meet."
Blocking the defense bill also stalled the DREAM Act, a piece of legislation designed to pave the road toward citizenship for illegal immigrants enrolled in higher education.
The New York Times reported that the repeal may have a second chance after the November elections.
Congress has approved the annual Pentagon authorization bill for 48 consecutive years, and it seems likely that the measure will be brought up again after the election in the relatively calmer - if somewhat unpredictable - atmosphere of a lame-duck session.
The House has already approved legislation allowing the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell," and the provision will likely be easier to pass in the Senate after December 1 when a Pentagon study on the effects of ending the policy is due.
As it stands, the Senate measure would not allow repeal of the policy until after the study is completed and President Obama and top military commanders certify that ending "don't ask, don't tell" would not harm morale or impede battle readiness of the armed forces.
Tuesday's Senate vote crushed the hopes of repeal advocates who saw the legislation as the best hope for repealing "don't ask, don't tell" in years.
"Today's vote is a failure of leadership on the part of those who have been duly elected to serve this nation and to put the best interests of the country ahead of partisan politics," said Alexander Nicholson, executive director of Servicemembers United. "It is simply inexcusable that this vote failed today."
Other advocates remained confident that the days of "don't ask, don't tell" are numbered.
"Our Constitution requires that every American is treated equally under the law and by our government," said Chad Griffin, board president of the American Foundation for Equal Rights. "It is a shameful that Congress did not act accordingly. Still, given the attention paid to this debate, as well as the recent federal court decisions regarding Prop. 8 and DOMA, I am hopeful that we are growing closer to meeting the promise of equality upon which our nation was founded."
Democratic leaders joined Reid in pledging to continue supporting a repeal of "don't ask, don't tell."
"Discrimination has no place in American society, especially when it undermines our national security by hurting military readiness," said Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wisconsin). "At a time when our Armed Forces are stretched thin, it makes no sense to continue denying talented Americans the chance to serve their country openly."