WASHINGTON - A defense spending bill including a provision to repeal "Don't ask, Don't tell" was struck down in the Senate Tuesday, slimming the possibility of Democrats overturning the military's ban on homosexuals before year's end.
Supporters attached the repeal to the $726 billion Defense Authorization Act, but were defeated in a 56-43 vote. Democrats were hoping to advance the legislation before the November elections, since the party could potentially lose seats in Congress -- making it even more difficult to overturn "Don't ask, Don't tell."
Republicans argue that America is engaged in full scale war, and repealing the ban on gays serving openly in the military would hurt morale, recruitment and retention, as well as stifle religious liberties.
"There are questions about how this will impact chaplains," said Family Research Council president Peter Sprigg. "Will they be free to preach the entire Bible, including the passages that condemn homosexuality? Will they be free to counsel an individual soldier that they could walk away from homosexuality?"
Supporters of "Don't ask, Don't tell" say chaplains already minister to troops of different faiths and walks of life, and ministering to homosexuals would be no different.
CBN News spoke with Joe Davis, public affairs director for Veterans of Foreign Wars, about the recent vote and how it could impact the 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' debate. Click play for his comments, following John Jessup's report.
Peter Sprigg, senior fellow for policy studies at the Family Research Council, also told CBN News the Obama administration is drafting the military into a 'culture war' by attempting to repeal 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell.' Click here for his comments.
"Often in isolated remote areas there's only one chaplain. One chaplain is there to serve all," explained Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network. "And they're there to serve gay troops and straight troops and they're serving them today."
An estimated 14,000 servicemen and women have been discharged under "Don't ask, Don't tell." Sarvis' organization has assisted more than 10,000 of them.
The group sponsored a rally in Maine, Monday, featuring singer Lady Gaga.
"Doesn't it seem to you that 'Don't ask, Don't tell' is backwards? She asked. "I thought equality was non-negotiable."
Republicans accuse Democrats of playing politics with the military.
Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell said, "(Democrats) want to weigh this (defense) bill down with controversy in a transparent attempt to show their special interest groups that they haven't forgotten about them ahead of the election."
The Defense Authorization Act also included language that would have repealed a law barring U.S. military hospitals overseas from performing abortions.
There's was also the "Dream Act," which would give young illegal immigrants a pathway to citizenship if they sign up for military service or go to college.
Before the vote, Senate Democrats held a press conference hosting some of the people who would benefit if the bill were signed into law.
"Yes, my birth certificate says Mexico. Fine. But my DNA, my soul embodies the principles of the American citizen soldier," law school student Cesar Vergas said at the press conference.
"Of all the opportunities and privileges and honors I've had... there's no greater than to have served as an officer and a leader in the United States Air Force," added Mike Almy, a soldier who was discharged under "Don't ask, Don't Tell." "And I greatly look forward to doing that again soon."
Those fighting to repeal the ban say they will keep fighting despite the recent vote.
"This issue is not going to go away," Sarvis said. "The American people are ready for 'Don't ask, Don't tell' to go."
A federal judge in California recently ruled that the U.S. military policy banning homosexuals was unconstitutional and opinion polls suggest that a majority of Americans oppose it.
Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has asked Congress to wait until Dec. 1, so the military can finish a study on how to lift the ban without causing problems.