A petition on the White House’s “We the People” Web page contends that a military draft covering men, but not women, is discriminatory and should be abolished.
“The Selective Service System is discriminatory against the young men of the United States of America,” the petision reads, “and should be considered unfair and unethical.”
“As the law stands young men must sign up for Selective Service for a possible military draft when they turn eighteen,” the petition notes. “If they do not they risk jail sentences, huge fines, or the denial of government services or jobs. Young women do not face the same requirements or penalties.” (RELATED: White House “secede” petitions reach 675,000 signatures, 50-state participation)
“To require only half of our citizens to register for such a program is not only government-sponsored sexism, but also a breach of their autonomy as human beings.”
Selective Service registration remains active until men turn 26 years old.
“It’s important to know that even though he is registered, a man will not automatically be inducted into the military,” the Selective Service website says. “In a crisis requiring a draft, men would be called in sequence determined by random lottery number and year of birth.”
The federal government makes exceptions for students in military academies who have already committed to serve in the armed forces. It also exempts seasonal agricultural workers, foreigners on time-limited visas and men confined to institutions like hospitals, mental institutions and prisons.
The United States has not had a draft since the Vietnam War. That draft was discontinued in 1973, and Selective Service was halted in 1975. But President Jimmy Carter reactivated it in 1980, asking Congress to include women. Congress, controlling the purse-strings, appropriated money only for registering men.
New York Democratic Rep. Charlie Rangel introduced legislation in 2003 that would have changed Selective Service rules to include women, and to allow for other government work to replace armed military service for conscientious objectors. It also extended the age of mandatory service to 42.
Then-Democratic Reps. Neil Abercrombie of Hawaii, John Conyers of Michigan, John Lewis of Georgia, Jim McDermott of Washington and Pete Stark of California all co-sponsored the bill upon its introduction.
Republicans in the House majority held a vote on the legislation and defeated it shortly before hte 2004 presidential election. But Rangel reintroduced his bill in 2006, 2007 and 2010. The most recent version had no co-sponsors and never received a committee vote.
Ultimately, Congress has the final say on situations in which women can serve in armed combat, but the Supreme Court has ruled that a male-only draft is constitutional.