Senate Republicans today blocked legislation that would have repealed the law banning gays from serving openly in the US military.
The partisan vote was a defeat for Senate Democrats and gay rights advocates, who saw the bill as their last chance before November’s elections to overturn the law known as “don’t ask, don’t tell”.
With the 56-43 vote, Democrats fell short of the 60 votes needed in the 100-member chamber to advance the legislation. It also would have authorised $726bn in defence spending including a pay raise for troops.
Senate Democrats attached the repeal provision to the defence bill in the hope that Republicans would hesitate to vote against legislation that included popular defence programmes.
But Republican legislators opposed the bill anyway, thwarting a key part of the Democrats’ legislative agenda.
Now, gay rights advocates say they worry they have lost a crucial opportunity to change the law. If Democrats lose seats in the upcoming elections, repealing the ban could prove even more difficult – if not impossible – next year.
“The whole thing is a political train wreck,” said Richard Socarides, a former White House adviser on gay rights during the Clinton administration.
Socarides said President Barack Obama, who voiced support for the measure in his 2008 campaign, “badly miscalculated” the Pentagon’s support for repeal, while Democrats made only a “token effort” to advance the bill.
“If it was a priority for the Democratic leadership, they would get a clean vote on this,” he said.
An estimated 13,000 people have been discharged under the law since its inception in 1993. Although most dismissals have resulted from gay service members outing themselves, gay rights’ groups say it has been used by vindictive co-workers to drum out troops who never made their sexuality an issue.