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Debate heats up over women, selective service

Should young men and women be treated the same when it comes to an unlikely military draft? The debate is taking some unexpected twists and turns.
US military soldiers march during the Veterans Day Parade in New York on Nov. 11, 2014. (Photo by Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty)
US military soldiers march during the Veterans Day Parade in New York on Nov. 11, 2014.
In December, the Obama administration took the historic step of opening all combat jobs to women. "We cannot afford to cut ourselves off from half the country's talents and skills," Defense Secretary Ash Carter told reporters.
Of course, it wasn't long before the next logical question came up: if there are no gender-related restrictions on combat service, why is the selective service system limited to young men? Two weeks ago, the top uniformed leaders from the Army and Marine Corps made the case that it's for that to change, too -- there's no reason, they said, young women should be treated differently when it comes registering for a draft.
The result is an unexpected election-year debate, with some policymakers, including the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, taking unexpected positions.

Sen. John McCain on Wednesday came out in support of requiring women to sign up for the military draft, becoming the latest top official to back the historic change. [...] "As women serve in more roles across the armed forces, I support the recommendation of the Army Chief of Staff and the Commandant of the Marine Corps that women should register for Selective Service," McCain said in a written statement. "It is the logical conclusion of the decision to open combat positions to women."

Some of McCain's colleagues clearly disagree. Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) this week introduced a bill that would block women from selective service registration.
Among Republican presidential hopefuls, Jeb Bush agrees with McCain, while Ted Cruz said he thinks it's "nuts," adding, "[T]he idea that their government would forcibly put them in a foxhole with a 220-pound psychopath trying to kill them doesn't make any sense at all." (I've read Marco Rubio's position a few times, and I'm still not entirely sure what he's trying to say.)
Making matters even more interesting, the Wall Street Journal reported this week that a bipartisan group of lawmakers want to bring equality -- not by having women enter the selective service system, but by eliminating the system altogether.

The burgeoning debate over the role of women in military combat and their eligibility for the draft could take a new turn with a proposal by a bipartisan group of lawmakers to abolish the Selective Service System altogether. Rep. Mike Coffman (R., Colo.), along with Reps. Peter DeFazio (D., Ore.), Jared Polis (D., Colo.) and Dana Rohrabacher (R., Calif.) introduced a bill on Thursday that would eliminate the Selective Service System, which they maintain is outdated and unnecessary.

It's one of those rare and welcome debates that cuts along partisan and ideological lines. Keep an eye on this one.