Senators voted almost totally along party lines in failing to gain the 60 votes needed to invoke cloture, which would have overcome a delaying tactic known as a filibuster and brought the annual Department of Defense authorization bill to the floor. The vote was 57-40 in favor of cloture, with Sen. Susan Collins of Maine the only Republican in support. New Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia was the lone Democrat to vote in opposition.
In September, a cloture vote failed in a 56-43 roll call.
The authorization measure included not only a repeal of the ban on homosexuals in the military but language that would have rescinded a prohibition on abortions in military facilities in the United States and overseas.
Advocates for reversing the military ban on homosexuals -- which is known as Don't Ask, Don't Tell -- still are seeking to repeal the law before Congress' lame-duck session ends this month. After the failed cloture vote, Collins joined Sen. Joseph Lieberman, an independent from Connecticut who caucuses with the Democrats, in introducing a stand-alone bill to rescind Don't Ask, Don't Tell.
Southern Baptist ethicist Richard Land called the Senate action a "tremendous victory."
"If you listened carefully, you could have heard a collective sigh of relief in the ranks of our voluntary armed forces that the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell failed to receive sufficient votes to pass through the Congress," said Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. "As I had said earlier, my personal interviews with all ranks of soldiers from privates through colonels led me to believe that there would have been significant and damaging levels of resignations from the armed services had Don't Ask, Don't Tell been repealed.
"It is a privilege, not a right, to serve in our armed forces, and the armed forces are not a laboratory for social experimentation," he said. "They are designed to fight and win wars, and the professionals whom we rely on to do this tell us that the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell would do significant damage to the small-unit cohesion that is essential in combat. "
Land, though, warned the "battle is not over." In a Friday e-mail alert to constituents, Land said, "Senators who want to scrap more than two centuries of protocol against open homosexuals in the military are not giving up. Given the right terms of Senate debate, several senators have indicated they might support repeal."
Supporters of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, which was enacted in 1993, warn its reversal will curtail the religious liberty of chaplains and others in the military whose opposition to homosexual conduct is based on the Bible. They also say it will undermine military readiness, cohesion, privacy and recruitment.
President Obama, who has pledged to overturn the policy, said he was "extremely disappointed" in the result of the Senate vote.
"While today's vote was disappointing, it must not be the end of our efforts," the president said in a written statement. "I urge the Senate to revisit these important issues during the lame duck session."
If the Senate fails to overturn Don't Ask, Don't Tell, focus on the issue likely will move to the courts. The November election of more conservatives means the next Congress presumably would not approve repeal of the policy. Also, a case already is working its way through the courts.
In October, federal judge Virginia Phillips invalidated the law and ordered its enforcement to cease globally. The U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco postponed her suspension of the ban indefinitely, meaning the policy will remain in effect while the case is under appeal.
The Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the country's largest homosexual political organization, called on Obama to act in the wake of the Senate vote. HRC President Joe Solmonese said Obama should put an end to discharges under the law and refuse to defend it in court.
The other controversial social policy in the Defense authorization bill was a restriction on elective, privately funded abortions in military health-care facilities that has been in place for the last 14 years. The proposal would not affect the ban that exists on publicly funded abortions at armed services hospitals.
Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List, charged after the vote that the Senate's Democratic leadership, in pushing the bill, had "ignored the will of the American people" in seeking to rescind the abortion ban.
"Medical facilities are meant to preserve life, not destroy it," she said in a written statement. "Military physicians understand this better than anyone which is why they refused to participate when the practice was permitted during the Clinton Administration, forcing the Administration to recruit civilian abortionists."
The effort to repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell has caused some military chaplains to speak out against such action.
More than 60 retired chaplains, including Southern Baptist chaplains, signed a letter to Obama and Defense Secretary Robert Gates earlier this year expressing concern that overturning Don't Ask, Don't Tell would result in the marginalizing of "deeply held" religious beliefs. The concern is that chaplains who speak against homosexuality -- in sermons or in counseling sessions, for instance -- will have a discrimination complaint filed against them. Chaplains who preach through entire books of the Bible, the letter said, would "inevitably present religious teachings that identify homosexual behavior as immoral."
"Thus, while chaplains fulfill their duty to God to preach the doctrines of their faith, they would find themselves speaking words that are in unequivocal conflict with official policies," the letter said.
The Senate's latest cloture vote came less than a week after the chiefs of three branches of the military voiced serious concerns about repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell while the United States is at war. Testifying Dec. 3 before a Senate committee, two of the chiefs even suggested ending the ban now might imperil service members in battle.
The Pentagon released Nov. 30 the results of a 10-month review of Don't Ask, Don't Tell that it said showed repeal of the policy would present little risk to the military's effectiveness. Supporters of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, however, said data in the report, which included a survey of 115,000 service members, provided a different picture.
For instance, the survey showed:
-- 59 percent of Marines who have been in combat and 44 percent of all personnel who have been in combat said having open homosexuals in a field environment or at sea would have a negative effect on their unit's "effectiveness at completing its mission."
-- 57 percent of personnel in Marine combat arms and 47 percent in Army combat arms said having an openly homosexual person would negatively impact "how service members in your immediate unit work together to get the job done."
-- 38 percent of Marines and nearly 24 percent of all personnel said they would either leave the military or think about doing so earlier than planned if the policy is reversed.
In addition to Obama and Gates, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Michael Mullen also supports repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell.
The House of Representatives voted 234-194 in May for an amendment to the Defense authorization bill that would repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell.
The three senators who did not vote on the cloture motion Thursday were Republicans Sam Brownback of Kansas and John Cornyn of Texas, as well as Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas. All three voted against cloture in September. Lincoln, though, said Thursday she would have voted "yes" to support cloture.
Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press. Michael Foust, associate editor of Baptist Press, contributed to this article. See how your senator voted at http://bit.ly/eIpFtK.
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