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January 24, 2013

Conscience, feminism, and the draft [Updated}

The national news is filled with the breathless word that Leon Panetta has declared that all combat roles are to be "opened" to women. Such an opportunity! Silly me, I'd missed the fact that back in the 1990's the official (though oft-flouted) ban on women in combat roles had been lifted at the Congressional level and the whole issue turned over to the Department of Defense.

All of which means, in case you didn't know, that it is now not at all implausible that young women between the ages of 18 and 25, like young men in the same age range, will be required by law to register for the draft.

Oh, not instantaneously. The Selective Service law is still law, not bureaucrat pseudo-law that can be changed overnight. So Congress will have to catch up with the program, and there may be a period, however brief, in which citizens can lobby Congress not to change the law. But there is an independent entity here: The courts. In Rostker v. Goldberg the Supreme Court ruled that the reason the Selective Service law doesn't violate men's rights to "equal protection" is because women can't serve in combat. With that response officially out of the way, it is as sure as can be that, if Congress doesn't capitulate, someone will file a lawsuit again, and the court will not have that rationale anymore to bolster the unequal treatment of men and women in registering for the draft.

Which leads to a very real question: What should those of us who have or will have women we love in the relevant age range and who regard women in our androgynized military as an obscenity counsel them to do if and when the law says that they are required to register for the draft? There is an obvious sense in which just going along with it is acquiescing in the vision of women as warriors and of men and women as fungible, which we utterly reject and are teaching them to reject.

On the other hand, the penalties of refusal to register are heavy. Men who do not register for the draft are technically subject to federal prosecution which can lead to up to five years' prison time and a fine of $250,000. This aspect of the law has not been enforced since the 1980's but could be once again. Most states have laws that link the ability of a man within the relevant age range to get a driver's license to his registration for the draft. Without a driver's license one cannot drive, and without official ID, one may not be able to vote. Then there are the "incidental" penalties, like being unable (ever) to get federal student aid or loans if one does not register within the relevant time period. Some states (I am told, though haven't verified) will not allow men even to attend their colleges if they have not registered for the draft. Side note: My own state of Michigan says here, contrary to the statement at the SSS site, that a man can get a driver's license in the state within the relevant age range while refusing to register for the draft. However, it ominously warns that in that case you are in violation of federal law (and after checking "no" on the form you would of course be in knowing violation) and possibly subject to federal prosecution.

In short, it would be no small matter for our young women to be asked to engage in immediate civil disobedience if required to register for the draft.

Are there any other options?

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