A Health & Human Services Committee has voted to keep a ban on gay men from donating blood.

Committee members ignored lawmakers' calls to end the ban, voting 9-to-6 late Friday to keep the policy in place, gay glossy The Advocate reported. The vote came after two days of hearings on the issue.

Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, a Democrat, led the fight to reverse the ban.

“This lingering policy is responsible for turning away thousands of healthy donors from blood clinics across the country, not because they have engaged in highly risky behavior, but because they are gay,” Kerry said in testimony before the panel.

“This is blood that could save lives,” he added.

The Food & Drug Administration (FDA) will have final say on the ruling, but it is likely to follow the panel's advice.

The FDA currently imposes a lifetime ban on men who have had a sexual relationship with another man since 1977 from donating blood. But the agency only excludes people who have engaged in heterosexual sexual activity with a person know to have HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, for one year.

Gay rights groups say the policy creates an unfair double standard and that it stigmatizes gay men.

Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, called the recommendation “outrageous, irresponsible and archaic.”

Carey said the decision “put lives at risk.”

Hemophilia patient groups oppose gay men donating blood. In the late 1970s and early 1980s about 10,000 hemophiliacs were infected with HIV before the FDA implemented the ban.

The American Red Cross, America's Blood Centers and the AABB are among the organizations that say the ban is outdated and should be abolished.

On Wednesday, 43 lawmakers led by Senator Kerry signed onto a letter urging the panel to reverse course on the policy.