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ACLU sues over policy barring women from combat

SAN FRANCISCO - The American Civil Liberties Union and four servicewomen sued the U.S. Defense Department on Tuesday to end a ban on women in combat, calling the military the last bastion of discrimination by the federal government and saying modern warfare has already put women in the line of fire.

The civil rights group argued in a legal complaint filed in federal court in Northern California that the military policy barring women from roles primarily focused on combat solely because of their gender was unconstitutional.

Hundreds of thousands of women veterans returning from wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are finding career paths off limits, sparking the challenge to a policy that has been in place officially since 1994 and unofficially for around two centuries.

"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," the suit reads.

Military officials say their institution is changing, but that is not fast enough for the returning veterans. The lawsuit, the second this year in federal court, comes a year after the Department of Defense ended restrictions on gays serving openly in the military.

The women challenging the Department of Defense policy flew search-and-rescue helicopter missions and patrolled with male Marines in nominally non-combat counter terrorism job roles. Two of the four were wounded. But they found their work unrecognized when it came to promotions.

"In America today it's hard to conceive that there are still things you are not allowed to do, just because you are a woman," Captain Zoe Bedell, a Marine Corps reserves officer who served two tours in Afghanistan, told a news conference.

Her female marines, tasked with engaging with residents in support of male infantry units, found themselves fighting, too.

"They patrolled every day with the infantry, and sometimes twice a day. They lived every day on the same combat outposts in remote corners of Afghanistan. They wore the same gear and they carried the same rifles, and when the unit was attacked, my marines fought back," she said.

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