Army Secretary John McHugh said Monday that opening up all combat roles to women would push lawmakers to engage in an "emotional discussion and debate" about whether or not women should also be required to enter the draft.
"If your objective is true and pure equality, then you have to look at all aspects and at some point Selective Service will have to be one of those things considered very carefully," McHugh said at the U.S. Army’s annual meeting in Washington, D.C., according to the Washington Examiner.
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McHugh said that Congress would have to decide to require women to sign up for the draft.
His remarks come just weeks after the service secretaries were required to submit recommendations to Defense Secretary Ash Carter as to whether certain combat positions should remain shuttered to women. It is widely believed that the Marine Corps requested an exception for some infantry and reconnaissance units, while the other services requested no exceptions.
Carter is due to make a decision on women in combat roles by January 1 after hearing arguments from service leaders.
The role of female service members in combat has become a contentious topic, especially since a study conducted by the Marine Corps found that mixed-gender units were significantly outperformed by all-male units in simulated combat operations.
Ray Mabus, the secretary of the Navy, received criticism from military leaders and lawmakers for dismissing the study’s findings and suggesting that its organizers were biased against women.
Sgt. Maj. Justin LeHew, a Marine war hero who helped conduct the nine-month study, called Mabus’ comments "way off base" in a Facebook post and argued that all combat roles should not be opened up to women until the country requires women to sign up for the draft.
"In this country we preach equality. But to place these mandates on the military before this country has even considered making females register, just like males, for the selective service is in all aspects out of touch with reality," LeHew wrote.