WASHINGTON — Military occupations could not be opened to women if they have gender-specific performance and physical standards under legislation to be considered Wednesday by the House Armed Services Committee.
Written to address concerns that the services might be under political pressure to relax standards to allow women into previously closed skills or ground combat fields, the provision does not block the services from opening any occupational skill to women as long as men and women are treated the same.
The provision was unveiled Monday as part of draft legislation to be proposed by Rep. Buck McKeon, R-Calif., the House Armed Services Committee chairman, during debate and votes on HR 1960, the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act.
The ground combat exclusion of women was technically repealed last year, but the actual change has been delayed while the services, mainly the Army and Marine Corps, which would be most affected, try to work out details.
Physical and performance standards are among the stumbling blocks, with research underway within the services to try to assign standards to specific occupations. Women’s groups have claimed the services are dragging their feet, while some conservatives worry the military could be considering establishing different standards for men and women.
Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., a Marine veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, has been the chief advocate for requiring gender-neutral standards in law.
McKeon’s language appears to do half of what Hunter seeks. It defines, in law, a requirement for men and women to meet the same physical and performance standards, but it does not include Hunter’s proposal to require written certification from the service chiefs that equal standards are being met before any new field is open to women.