U.S. Senate blocks 'don't ask, don't tell' repeal

U.S. President Barack Obama urged the Senate to try again to repeal the military's ban on openly gay service members before the end of the year.

President Barack Obama urged the U.S. Senate to try again to repeal the military's ban on openly gay service members before the end of the year.

President Barack Obama appealed to U.S. lawmakers to make a last-ditch effort to lift the military's ban on openly gay troops before the end of the year. ((Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Associated Press))

Obama made the appeal Thursday shortly after Senate Republicans voted to block an effort in the Senate to end the "don't ask, don't tell" policy.

The president expressed disappointment with the vote, but he said in a statement that, in his words, "It must not be the end of our efforts."

The Senate has little time left to vote again before the holidays. Next year, when a new Senate convenes, the Democratic majority will be narrower and repealing the ban will likely face greater opposition.

Obama thanked Senator Susan Collins of Maine, the only Republican to vote to advance the legislation.

Republicans blocked a last-ditch effort on Thursday to lift the military's ban on openly gay troops, rejecting another project pushed vigorously by Obama.

Procedural hurdles

The 57-40 vote fell three short of the 60 needed in the 100-member chamber to overcome procedural hurdles to lift the policy that replaced in 1993 an outright ban on gays in the U.S. military.

In his 2008 campaign for the presidency, Obama promised to overturn the law. More recently, he declared it one of his top legislative priorities for the year.

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 due to a procedural disagreement.

'Shameful school yard spats'

"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 bars 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 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.