The Army’s top general said recently that a policy banning women from combat arms units could soon be revised.
“We’re looking at revising the policy,” Gen. George W. Casey Jr. told a breakfast gathering of the Association of the U.S. Army in Arlington, Va. “We’ve had some work going on for a while, and that’ll double back up to the secretary, I would think, in the next couple of months.”
“When I get the recommendations back from the team [studying it], I’ll take a look at it, but right now I wouldn’t want to venture a guess and put my successor in a box,” Gen. Casey said, according to Military.com.
If the Army actually did overturn the ban on women in combat units in that time-frame, it could beat the ongoing integration of openly gay soldiers into all regular units military-wide.
President Barack Obama called for changes to the military’s discriminatory anti-gay policies, which were repealed by Congress in its last lame-duck session, to be implemented “quickly.” The Department of Defense, however, has not specified how long full integration will take or what specifically will be changing, but Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has suggested it could take up to a year.
Present rules banned women from joining special forces, infantry and armored units.
2011 the year for ‘equal rights’?
The military’s announcement comes as, for yet another year, the Equal Rights Amendment was due to be reintroduced to Congress. The legislation, written by a suffrage activist in 1921, would enshrine gender equality in the US Constitution.
It has been largely ignored by almost every Congress since then, with the exception of 1972 when it managed to clear the national body. However, it was only ratified by 35 states, failing to obtain the 37 required to amend the Constitution.
The bill’s reintroduction bears a greater pertinance to the discussion in Washington today thanks to the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” and recent comments by conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who suggested to a reporter that the Constitution does not afford equal protection to women.
Scalia, long known to be a constitutional “originalist” and a conservative stalwart on the Supreme Court, argued that it’s up to legislatures to pass laws that protect women against discrimination, and doing so wouldn’t be unconstitutional.
“If indeed the current society has come to different views, that’s fine,” he said. “You do not need the Constitution to reflect the wishes of the current society. If the current society wants to outlaw discrimination by sex, hey we have things called legislatures, and they enact things called laws. You don’t need a constitution to keep things up-to-date. All you need is a legislature and a ballot box.”
The remarks drew outrage from various sectors, most recently from Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), who said Scalia’s statement firmly sides with “regressive” views expressed by the House Republican majority when it comes to the rights of individual citizens.
“Justice Scalia takes the same narrow and hostile approach to individual rights as the so-called ‘constitutional conservatives’ who have just taken over the House,” he said, according to a media advisory. “It is a dangerous time for equality. The Equal Rights Amendment will stand as an explicit bulwark of freedom and equality that even Justice Scalia, and regressive forces here in the House, will not be able to ignore.”
He added that Scalia’s assessment flies in the face of the 14th Amendment, which guarantees equal protection to all “persons” who are “citizens” of the US.
“Passage of the Equal Rights Amendment, a clear an unequivocal statement in our Constitution guaranteeing equal rights for women, is long overdue,” Nadler said. “It is an embarrassment for our nation that most countries have gender equality enshrined in their constitutions, while we do not. It undermines our standing as a nation committed to freedom and equality for all. It is a matter of simple justice and our leadership in the world that we move quickly to rectify this defect.”