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Like it or not, gender equality may soon come to the US military draft

Jessica McGowan/Getty Images

The United States is inching closer to doing something that would categorize it with nine other countries in the world: require both men and women to register for enlistment in the armed forces.

Currently China, Eritrea, Israel, North Korea, Libya, Malaysia, Peru, Taiwan, and, most recently, Norway all draft female soldiers.

The Senate passed a defense bill Tuesday that included the requirement for women to sign up for the draft beginning in 2018. The National Defense Authorization Act passed in the Senate with an overwhelming 85-13 majority, drawing support from both sides of the aisle.

The draft requirement wasn’t included in the House version of the bill, and it’s still up for debate if it will make it through the conference committee between the two bills. If the measure becomes law, women turning 18 on or after January 1, 2018, will have to sign up for the Selective Service System.

Men have been required to do so since the Civil War, though the Selective Service System has only existed in its current form since 1980. Failure to sign up within 30 days of one’s 18th birthday could lead to penalties such as losing federal aid for higher education, including Pell Grants.

Most senators see this as a move toward inclusiveness

The move would reverse a 1981 Supreme Court decision that ruled that women couldn’t be subject to the draft because they did not participate in the front lines of combat. Since the Pentagon changed the rules about women in combat positions in December, the consensus has gradually shifted.

"Because the Department of Defense has lifted the ban on women serving in ground combat units, the committee believes there is no further justification in limiting the duty to register under the Military Selective Service Act to men," reads the bill summary.

Most opposition came from conservative senators like Ted Cruz (R-TX), who has two young daughters. Cruz said he "could not in good conscience vote to draft our daughters into the military, sending them off to war and forcing them into combat."

The idea of putting women in the draft was brought up back in April by Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA), who proposed an amendment ironically as an argument against putting women in combat. According to Hunter, women shouldn’t be allowed in combat if people can’t fathom the idea of putting them in the draft.

As Vox’s Tara Golshan pointed out, the argument backfired when his amendment was added after the committee passed it 32 to 30. Hunter was one of the 30 voting against it.

Politicians like Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY) have argued in favor of a universal draft for years, saying it gives "everyone in America a real stake in any decision on going to war" and "[compels] the public to think twice before they make a commitment to send their loved ones into harm’s way."

Some think we should get rid of the draft altogether instead of bringing more people into it

Although the draft hasn’t been used since 1973 during the Vietnam War, many people still oppose the idea of forced conscription. The United States military as it stands is volunteer-based, and many think it should always be that way.

In an op-ed with the Washington Post, former Navy Officer Christopher Preble argued against the draft, saying that "compulsory service is even less essential today" than when it was last used in the '70s. "America’s wars of the post-conscription era have been fought by far smaller forces, and our mixed track record in those conflicts hasn’t been a function of the number of available troops."

Preble also argues that drafts reduce military effectiveness and make it easier for presidents to increase deployment numbers with little debate.

When asked about female conscription at a CNN town hall meeting, Hillary Clinton said, "The all-volunteer military has worked, and we should not do anything that undermines it because it has provided a solid core of people who are willing to serve our country."

According to a Rasmussen Reports study, 49 percent of American voters believe women should have to sign up for the draft. But when asked if there should be a draft at all, only 21 percent said yes.

The LA Times editorial board asked back in February, "Does it make sense to extend the Selective Service rule as a symbolic gesture of gender equality without first examining the rationality of maintaining a registry at all in the digital era?"

At least for now, gender equality in being drafted seems more likely than equality in not being drafted at all.

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