Back in December, the military made the landmark decision to officially open all combat jobs to women, evoking lots of controversy throughout the nation.
Some felt that the decision was indicative of the changing times and could be taken as a large stride toward true gender equality in the United States. Other citizens were far less accepting of this change as they felt that it would disrupt the status quo of military procedures. But perhaps the biggest controversy to arise out of the military’s decision to allow women into all combat jobs concerns the draft. For the first time ever in American history, the question now is — will women be required to register for military drafts?
Back in 1917, the Selective Service System was established as the United States was preparing to join World War I. Over the years, the system has grown into an independent agency of the US government that maintains information on those who are potential candidates for military conscription. Nowadays, the Selective Service System provides the U.S. military with enough troops when it is short-handed during times of war. Even though the Selective Service laws have been in place for nearly 100 years, they have only ever required men to register for the draft. Women have never had to face the prospect of being forced into military service. The current version of the Military Selective Services Act requires nearly all men in the United Sates between the ages of 18 and 26 to register for the draft within 30 days of turning 18. Nowhere in this version of the act are women required to also participate in the draft.
Some people have already expressed a belief that all young Americans should have to experience the rite of passage of registering for Selective Service. Gen. Robert B. Neller, the Marine Corps commandant, and Gen. Mark A. Milley, chief of staff of the Army both stated that they are in favor of opening the draft process to women, as they said in the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the full integration of women in the military.
In an interview with the Washington Post, Gen. Neller further expressed his views. “Now that the restrictions that exempted women from [combat jobs] don’t exist, then you’re a citizen of a United States,” Neller said. “It doesn’t mean you’re going to serve, but you go register.”
Complaints have already been filed against the Selective Service System, especially since the combat exclusion policy was appealed.
In July, a young female from New Jersey made a federal class action, claiming that refusal to consider women for the draft is discriminatory. “With both males and females available for such roles today, the two sexes are now similarly situated for draft registration purposes and there is no legitimate reason for the government to discriminate against the female class, so equal protection applies,” the complaint states. “Further, with both males and females available for such combat roles, there is no reasonable basis for infringing the associational interests of the female class by preventing them from registering.”
In 2013, the National Coalition for Men filed a similar complaint questioning the legality of requiring only males to register for the military draft.
Historically, the purpose of registration was to prepare for the draft of combat troops. Since women were previously excluded from combat positions in the military, it had always been understood that women would not be drafted and therefore, had no reason to be registered. But as the United States military moves into a new era of inclusion, only time will tell if women will ultimately be included in the draft.