Four U.S. servicewomen say their careers are being held back from an archaic policy and are fight for equal combat rights.
SAN FRANCISCO - The American Civil Liberties Union sued on Tuesday on behalf of four U.S. servicewomen to challenge a longstanding policy barring women from thousands of ground combat positions, citing the changing nature of warfare and fairness for career soldiers.
The civil rights group argued in a legal complaint filed in federal court in Northern California that a military policy to bar women from combat roles on the basis of gender was unconstitutional.
"Nearly a century after women first earned the right of suffrage, the combat exclusion policy still denies women a core component of full citizenship - serving on equal footing in the military defense of our nation," reads the suit, on behalf of four women soldiers who have fought in Iraq or Afghanistan.
Their career opportunities also had been limited by the policy, the women said.
The Department of Defense has slowly been dropping such restrictions. In February it allowed some women to serve in combat battalions, a unit of 300 to 1,000 members, and dropped restrictions on women serving in units that were required to be based with combat units.
But women still are not allowed in infantry, or in smaller units engaged in combat. Women are barred from more the 238,000 positions, the ACLU said. But in Iraq and Afghanistan, where there are no clear battle lines, women have been pulled into combat in spite of the policy, the group added.
"(Defense) Secretary (Leon) Panetta remains strongly committed to examining the expansion of roles for women in the U.S. military, as evidenced by the recent step of opening up thousands of more assignments to women," spokeswoman Eileen Lainez wrote by email in anticipation of the ACLU announcement.
More than 14,000 jobs were open to women because of the February change, she said.
A 2009 study by the Defense Department found that women already served in combat roles in the two wars, and that female veterans felt the experience opened up career opportunities.
The ACLU and law firm Munger, Tolles &Olson filed the request for an injunction on the policy in the U.S. District Court, Northern District of California. The lawsuit names Panetta as a defendant.