Lawsuit challenges ban on women serving in combat positions


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The American Civil Liberties Union on Tuesday filed a lawsuit against the Department of Defense, challenging its policy that since 1994 has categorically excluded women from most direct combat positions.

The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in San Francisco on behalf of four women who serve with the U.S. Marine Corps, Marine Corps Reserve, California Air National Guard and Army Reserve.


The policy, the suit alleges, has been outpaced by reality. Yet by remaining in effect, it unconstitutionally bans an entire class from even applying for upward of 238,000 jobs that remain off limits to them.

‘Women are serving in combat,’ said Marine Capt. Zoe Bedell, 27, who in Afghanistan was in charge of a 46-member ‘female engagement team’ that accompanied male infantry units to interact with civilian women.

‘The modern battlefield means there are no front lines or safe areas.... My Marines supported infantry units. They patrolled every day. They wore the same gear. They carried the same rifles. And when my Marines were attacked, they fought back.’

The lawsuit -- the second of its kind -- comes as the Pentagon has opened more positions to women on a trial basis while nonetheless holding firm to the blanket exclusion. Still, the suit argues, the disconnect with what attorneys for the servicewomen described as the realities of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan makes the ban obsolete.

More than 14% of active military personnel and 20% of recruits are now women, according to Defense Department statistics. And a recent survey indicated that 85% of women who have served since 2001 reported having been in combat zones. Half were involved in combat operations.

Two of the plaintiffs in Tuesday’s lawsuit were awarded Purple Hearts for injuries sustained in combat.



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-- Lee Romney in San Francisco

Photo: Female soldiers join a patrol in Baghdad on March 21, 2004. Credit: Karim Sahib/AFP/Getty Images