Advocates of ending the U.S. military's ban on openly-gay service are angry and defiant after the Senate voted against considering a bill that would have repealed the law known as "Don't Ask, Don't Tell".
In a last-ditch effort, pro-repeal senators have promised to introduce a new bill in the waning days of the current Congressional session. The path to ending the ban on self-identifying homosexual troops has narrowed significantly, and the issue could ultimately be decided by the courts.
Demonstrators rallied at the Capitol demanding that senators stay in Washington until "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" is repealed. "The Senate needs to stay here in session, through Christmas if they have to, to get this done," said Mike Almy, a former major in the U.S. Air Force.
A day earlier, the Senate failed for a second time to overcome a Republican-led maneuver blocking consideration of a defense bill that would have ended the ban on openly-gay military service.
Overcoming Republican roadblocks will become even more challenging next year, when the party takes control of the House of Representatives and boosts its numbers in the Senate.
Most Republicans, like Arizona Senator John McCain, oppose changing the law. "At this moment of immense hardship for our Armed Forces, we should not be seeking to overturn the 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' policy," he said.
And so the last opportunity to end the ban appears to rest with pro-repeal senators who have promised to introduce a new bill in the coming days. Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut said, "We'll stay here as long as necessary to get this done."
Retired Navy Commander Zoe Dunning is openly gay. She said she and other activists will continue to fight, despite dwindling odds of success. "We'll try again [for a vote], but it is going to be an uphill battle, for sure," she said.
Although Dunning blames Republicans for blocking a vote on "Don't Ask, Don't Tell", she says Democrats erred in putting off legislative action until the final days of 2010, when Congress has other matters to consider.
The White House insists President Barack Obama remains committed to ending the ban on openly-gay military service. Press Secretary Robert Gibbs says federal courts will step in if Congress fails to act. "You could easily face a situation where, because of a court ruling, the law of the land changes in an instant," he said.
A federal court has found "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" unconstitutional. The ruling is before an appeals court, and, without legislative action, scholars believe it's only a matter of time before the U.S. Supreme Court decides the matter once and for all.
Last month, the Pentagon released a study showing most U.S. troops have few, if any, objections to serving alongside an openly-gay colleague.
Some 14,000 gay service members have been kicked out of the military since "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" was instituted in 1993. The law allows gays to serve as long as their sexuality remains a secret.