Senate Democrats failed to advance legislation Tuesday that would have repealed policies barring openly gay individuals from serving in the military and barring elective abortions on military bases.
Despite having attached the repeal provisions to the must-pass National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2011, Democrats fell short of the 60 votes they needed to end debate over the bill.
The 56-43 vote Tuesday also dealt a blow to pro-gay activists who lobbied to see the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy repealed before November's elections. If Democrats lose seats in the elections, as many predict they will, repealing the policy could prove even more difficult – if not impossible – next year.
The defense bill, which traditionally passes with bipartisan support, must now wait to be brought up again following the fall elections for further debate before moving on to the president's desk. At the heart of the bill is authorization of $726 billion in defense spending that includes a pay raise for troops.
In addition to all the Republican senators, Tuesday's vote received "nays" from Democratic Sens. Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor of Arkansas, as well as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who switched votes as a procedural tactic. Under Senate rules, casting his vote with the majority of the Senate enables Reid to revive the bill at a later date if he wants.
Democrats also failed to court Maine's two Republican senators – Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins – who both oppose DADT. Despite their opposition, the senators stood by fellow Republicans, having both noted earlier that they would like the Senate to proceed to a full and open debate on the Defense Authorization bill.
Snowe also questioned why the Senate would vote on repeal of DADT before the military completed its report on the potential impact of such a change to the Clinton-era policy.
"We should all have the opportunity to review that report which is to be completed on December 1, as we reevaluate this policy and the implementation of any new changes," Snowe expressed in a statement.
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates had advised members of Congress to wait until after the Pentagon finishes its review – due on Dec. 1 – before changing the policy.
Last week, however, Reid motioned for cloture on the chamber's Defense Authorization bill in hopes of advancing it before elections and the lame-duck session.
The repeal provisions drew strong objections from conservative groups including the Family Research Council and the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, which said repealing DADT would strain American forces, weaken troop morale, and compel countless chaplains to leave the services.
Also receiving opposition, though not as strongly, was an amendment to the bill that would allow elective abortions on military installations in the United States and abroad.
Richard Land of the ERLC said overturning the anti-abortion law would in effect turn America's military hospitals into abortion mills.