The US Senate has blocked a vote on whether homosexuals should be allowed to serve openly in the military.
The support of 60 senators was needed to open a debate on repealing the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy.
Fixty-six members backed the motion, compared to 43 against.
Introduced in 1993, gays and lesbians can serve in the US armed forces provided that they hide their sexual orientation.
Those who come out can be discharged.
Veterans from the Alexander Hamilton Post 448, a group of predominantly gay and lesbian former service men and women, said the law must be overturned.
“It’s a serious form of discrimination, it’s taking citizens of this country and treating them as second class citizens,” said John Forrett, who served in the first Gulf War.
Morningstar Vancil, a former military commander, said the rule is “a very poor policy.”
“We don’t ask straight people what they do in their bedroom,” she said.
“How dare they ask me what I do in my bedroom?”
President Barack Obama promised to scrap the policy during his 2008 campaign.
Some 13,000 people have been discharged from service since its inception under the first Clinton administration.