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Diversity, Inclusion, and Equal Opportunity in the Armed Services: Background and Issues for Congress

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Technical Report

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Congressional Research Service Washington United States

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Diversity, inclusion, and equal opportunity are three terms that are often used interchangeably however, there are some differences in how they are interpreted and applied between the Department of Defense DOD and civilian organizations. DODs definitions of diversity and equal opportunity have changed over time, as have its policies toward inclusion of various demographic groups. These changes have often paralleled social and legal change in the civilian sector. The gradual integration of previously excluded groups into the military has been ongoing since the 19th century. However, in the past few decades there have been rapid changes to certain laws and policies regarding diversity, inclusion, and equal opportunity in the Armed Forces. Since 2009, DOD policy changes and congressional actions have allowed individuals who are gay to serve openly, recognized their same-sex spouses as dependents for the purpose of military benefits, opened all combat assignments to women, and, as of June 30, 2016, is ending restrictions on service for transgender troops.Under Article 1, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution, Congress has the authority to raise and support armies provide and maintain a navy and provide for organizing, disciplining, and regulating them. Congress has used this authority to establish criteria and standards that must be met for individuals to be recruited into the military, to advance through promotion, and to be separated or retired from military service. Throughout the history of the armed services, Congress has established some of these criteria based on demographic characteristics such as race, sex, and sexual orientation. In recent years, Congress and the Administration have taken actions to build a more diverse and representative military workforce in parallel with efforts to diversify the federal civilian workforce.

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