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If Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, fails in his attempt to get 60 votes to bring a repeal vote to the floor, it is unlikely that Congress will act next year because Republicans will control the House and Senate Republicans will have six more seats.

With that prospect, Mr. Gates issued a plea to act now for fear the courts will force an instant repeal, as a U.S. District Court judge in Los Angeles did over the summer before an appeals court blocked the order.

“I believe this is a matter of some urgency because, as we have seen in the past year, the federal courts are increasingly becoming involved in this issue,” the defense secretary said. “Just a few weeks ago, one lower court ruling forced the department into an abrupt series of changes that were no doubt confusing and distracting to men and women in the ranks.”