There is a lot of good news to come out of the Senate version of the National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA. To begin with, they do not include the House’s amendments which would arm the continued repeal implementation of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and the second is that they include provisions to allow women in combat roles.
Regarding the first, Servicemembers Defense Network stated:
“SLDN and our allies have been working on Capitol Hill this year to encourage the Senate Armed Services Committee to pass a common-sense defense spending bill that does not seek to turn the clock back on the progress we have made in this first year of implementation of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ repeal. We now turn our attention to making sure the full Senate passes the committee bill and that the harmful language included in the House version is stripped away in conference committee,” said Sarvis.
The House passed its version of the NDAA on May 18 and included two harmful amendments put forth by opponents of LGBT military equality. The first would give so-called “conscience protections” to chaplains and service members who do not wish to minister and work with gay and lesbian service members. A threat to military readiness and unit cohesion, this amendment would allow service members to actively harass their fellow comrades for their perceived or actual sexual orientation. It would allow chaplains to discriminate against service members by religion, gender, sexual orientation, race, or any other religious belief simply by arguing that ministering to them would be contrary to their “conscience, moral principles, or religious beliefs.”
A second amendment adopted to the House version of the bill would limit the use of Department of Defense property for same-gender marriage ceremonies.
“The Department of Defense has already made it clear – and appropriately so – that decisions about the use of facilities should be made on a sexual orientation neutral basis. This is yet another attempt by a few opponents of military equality who are looking to turn the clock back on progress and relegate gay and lesbian service members to second-class status,” said Sarvis.
With regards to women in front lines combat, the NDAA unveiled by Senators Carl Levin and John McCain includes a proposal put forward by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York which would order the military to develop a plan to send women into battle. The Pentagon has already begun relaxing ground ground combat exclusion policy for women, and opening more jobs closer to the battlefields. This would require the commanders to come up with plans to remove those final barriers.
The Huffington Post notes:
Women constitute about 15 percent of the armed forces, and 144 have died in action in Iraq and Afghanistan. Nearly 900 have been wounded there. Supporters of opening all war zones to women say such a change would also remove obstacles to women’s advancement in the military, where battle experience is a key to promotion.
“Women are already fighting and dying for our country shoulder-to-shoulder with their brothers in uniform on the front lines, but without the formal recognition that is essential for them to advance and obtain the benefits they have earned,” said Gillibrand in a statement. “Just like it was wrong to discriminate against service members because of whom they love, it is also wrong to deny combat roles to qualified women solely because of their gender.”
Meanwhile, two female soldiers have filed suit in order to gain combat roles for women. Command Sergeant Major Jane Baldwin and Colonel Ellen Haring, both Army Reservists, have stated that the exclusion based upon their sex violates their rights under the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution. They stated in the filing that “This limitation on plaintiffs’ careers restricts their current and future earnings, their potential for promotion and advancement, and their future retirement benefits.”