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How a too-clever attempt to oppose women in combat turned into a bill opening the draft to women


A Republican congress member from California tried to make a point about women in the military, and it backfired.

Amid the debate about the Pentagon announcing it would allow qualified women in combat roles, Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) proposed to amend a defense bill to also require 18- to 26-year-old women to register for Selective Service, more commonly known as the draft.

"Right now draft is sexist," Hunter said, proposing the amendment to the defense authorization bill to point out that if people didn't want women to be drafted, they shouldn't be in combat roles. Hunter himself both opposes allowing women in combat, and does not think it is a good idea to require women to register for the draft.

But to his surprise, members of the legislature from both sides of the aisle said women should be required to register for the draft.

"I actually think if we want equality in this country, if we want women to be treated precisely like men are treated and that they should not be discriminated against, we should be willing to support a universal conscription," Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) said.

The committee voted to include Hunter's amendment, 32 to 30.

The law that requires only men to register for the draft was upheld in the Supreme Court in 1981, largely because at the time the Department of Defense did not allow women in combat. Now that that has changed, Rep. Chris Gibson (R-NY) joined the Democrats to argue for universally "standards-based" draft — making the language surrounding Selective Service consistent with changes in combat policies.

Last December, the Department of Defense announced the military would open all combat roles to women. However, the historic policy change did not address whether or not the United States military would require women to register for the draft — something that is up to members of Congress.

Hunter never intended for the amendment to pass the committee; while introducing it, he described the graphic nature of front lines, to which, he said, women should not be exposed.

Hunter voted against his own amendment.

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