Men, maybe you'll remember the following rite of passage:
Upon my eighteenth birthday, back in 1993, I attained the age of majority. I received a razor in the mail from a local razor company and stadium-naming-rights holder proclaiming "You're a man now. Use a man's razor."
That day, I went to town hall to register to vote. And then, with much consternation, I went to the Social Security Office to undertake an endeavor my sister would never have to do: I registered for the draft.
Selective service has long been the purview of men. All men, upon reaching the age of eighteen, are required to register and remain draft-eligible until they reach age twenty-six. Failure to do so-for any reason-can carry severe criminal penalties including fines of up to $250,000 and five years in prison. Additionally, failure to register can make you ineligible to receive student financial aid, and ineligibility to obtain federal jobs. Women have been exempted because women were not permitted to fill combat roles in the armed forces.
This month, that has changed.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta ordered all branches of government to implement plans to integrate the military. Decades of work on behalf of equal rights came to fruition. In the wars of the past decade, women have fought and died alongside men when forced to from their support roles. When I served in the Navy SeaBees in the mid 1990s, women trained alongside men for all roles – including ground and hand-to-hand combat. They stayed in the same tents and barracks as men, and we made reasonable accommodations for privacy. There was never an issue, and it seems shocking that it has taken this long for the military's civilian leadership to implement what has been clear as day in the trenches for so long.
However, women are still exempt from registering for the draft, and will be until Congress passes legislation, and the President signs same, eliminating the female exemption.
As an ardent supporter of equal rights of all Americans, I believe this now needs to happen. All women between the ages of 18-25 must be compelled to register for selective service or face the same penalties that men face. Failure to enact this legislation continues to enshrine discrimination against both men *and* women, and reinforces the outdated notion that there are inherent differences in competencies between women and men.
Or, preferably, Congress can end selective service once and for all - but until that happens, we need to be all in on equal rights.