Republicans have blocked a last-ditch effort in the US Senate to lift the military's ban on openly gay troops, dealing a major blow to gay rights groups and making it unlikely Congress could repeal the "don't ask, don't tell" law any time soon.
The 57-40 vote fell three short of the 60 needed in the 100-member chamber to overcome procedural hurdles to lift the 17-year-old ban. The rejection was a defeat for President Barack Obama, who campaigned promising to overturn the law and later called it one of his top legislative priorities for the year. But in the end, the White House did little to push the legislation, focusing its influence instead on tax cuts and a nuclear arms treaty with Russia.
Repeal advocates said the fight was not over, but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid seemed to have little appetite to return to the subject with only a week left in the post-election session and other major legislation pending.
"The other side may feel passionately that our military should sanction discrimination based on sexual orientation, but they are clearly in the minority," Reid, a Democrat, said of Republicans. "And they have run out of excuses."
Gay rights advocates were furious because the Senate vote failed largely because of a procedural disagreement.
"Instead of doing what is right, the world's greatest deliberative body devolved into shameful school yard spats that put petty partisan politics above the needs of our women and men in uniform," said Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, a gay rights group.
The 1993 law bans gay troops from publicly acknowledging their sexual orientation. A repeal provision was included in a broader defence policy bill and passed earlier in the year in the House.
More than 60 senators were expected to support repeal, with at least four Republicans having said they support overturning "don't ask, don't tell."
But Republican senators were united in demanding that the Senate vote on tax cuts first. They also wanted assurances by Reid they would be given extensive time debate on the defence bill, which contained other divisive provisions.