The Senate voted to require women to register for the draft when they turn 18, just like men, as part of a large military authorization bill Tuesday. The new provision, passed by the Senate 85 to 13, is still far from becoming law, but comes at a time when the U.S. military has gradually lifted previous restrictions on women serving in combat roles in the armed forces.
The vote signals a changing national—and political—mood on the issue, particularly by conservative lawmakers, with the staunchest conservative wing of the Republican party still actively opposing the change. One of those members, predictably, was former presidential candidate Ted Cruz who said the most Ted Cruz thing ever on the Senate floor last week: “The idea that we should forcibly conscript young girls in combat to my mind makes little sense at all.” His fellow Republicans, however, largely disagree with his stance on America’s women.
While most Republican senators — including Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, and the women on the Armed Services Committee — agree with the move, it has come under fierce attack from some of Congress’s most conservative members … “The fact is,” said Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona and the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, “every single leader in this country, both men and women, members of the military leadership, believe that it’s fair since we opened up all aspects of the military to women that they would also be registering for Selective Services …”
“It’s my personal view,” Gen. Robert B. Neller, the commandant of the Marine Corps, told the Senate Armed Services Committee in February, that with the complete lifting of the ban on women in combat roles, “every American who’s physically qualified should register for the draft.”
The recent opening up combat roles to women will also likely change the constitutional grounding for the exclusion of women from the draft. The Supreme Court ruled in 1981 that women were not subject to the same requirement as men to register for Selective Service because they did not serve on the front lines. That is obviously no longer the case.
The latest draft provision was stripped out of a bill passed by the House, meaning the two versions of the bill would still need to be reconciled in committee. Under the new provision passed by the Senate, every American woman who turns 18 on or after Jan. 1, 2018 would be required to register for the draft.