CHARLESTON, S.C. (BP)–The leading Democratic presidential candidates said July 23 they believe young women should register for Selective Service, the national registry used for drafts in times of war.
Currently, only young men are required to register upon turning 18, and not doing so disqualifies them for federal student aid and most federal employment, and could also result in a fine and/or imprisonment for up to five years. Selective Service was reinstated in 1980 and its male-only requirement was upheld the next year by the U.S. Supreme Court as constitutional in a 6-3 vote.
The candidates gathered in Charleston, S.C., for a unique CNN/YouTube debate that showcased prerecorded, submitted questions from voters. One of those dealt with whether women should register.
“We’ve had combat deaths of women in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York said. “And I do think that women should register. I doubt very much that we’ll ever have to go back to a draft. But I think it is fair to call upon every young American.”
She added, though, that she’s opposed to the draft.
Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) agreed.
“I think that if women are registered for service — not necessarily in combat roles, and I don’t agree with the draft — I think it will help to send a message to my two daughters that they’ve got obligations to this great country as well as boys do,” he said.
Former Sen. John Edwards didn’t answer the question directly but pointed to a woman in the audience, sitting next to his wife, who flew combat missions over Baghdad. “Anybody who has any question about whether women can serve courageously and honorably” should go see her, he said.
Sen. Christopher Dodd (Conn.) said he opposed the draft but added, “[I]f you’re going to have registration, it ought to be across [gender] lines; you don’t just ask one gender to … have the responsibility. So in my view that would be the fair thing to do.”
Selective Service was reinstated in 1980 after the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, although a draft was not conducted then and hasn’t been held since. Former President Carter attempted to include women in Selective Service for what he called “noncombatant service,” but Congress declined to do so. It was part of what he called “asking women to assume additional responsibilities,” during the same time he was seeking passage of the Equal Rights Amendment, which never was ratified.
Wendy Wright, president of Concerned Women for America, said it’s a bad idea to include women in Selective Service.
“Americans don’t want to see women put into combat positions,” she told Baptist Press. “Now, the candidates tried to make a distinction, but the point of selective service is to be prepared for a draft…. Women have the option of going into military service, so women are not being denied anything. But what [Democratic candidates] seem to be promoting is a system that could at some point end up requiring women to serve in dangerous positions.”
The candidates, she said, seem to be “coming from the viewpoint that there’s no distinction or difference between men and women.”
“Most Americans would not agree with that,” Wright said. “On the surface, Americans want equality, but when you get into the nitty-gritty of laws that would not allow any distinction to be made between men and women, that’s when Americans say, ‘That’s going too far.’
“Men do have a natural sense of wanting to protect. Women have a natural sense of wanting to nurture. These are both beautiful characteristics — highly valued characteristics. And it’s demeaning to deny that women have certain characteristics that are different than men.”
Wright added that one reason the Equal Rights Amendment failed was because it did not allow for “any distinction” between men and women under the law.
On other issues:
— Edwards said he opposes “gay marriage” but supports homosexual activists on other issues, such as the legalization of civil unions.
“I personally have been on a journey on this issue [gay marriage],” he said. “I feel enormous conflict about it. As I think a lot of people know … my wife Elizabeth spoke out a few weeks ago, and she actually supports gay marriage. I do not. But this is a very, very difficult issue for me. And I recognize and have enormous respect for people who have a different view of it.”
— Edwards said his faith is “enormously important” to him but would not play a role in decision-making if he is president.
“It is crucial that the American people know that as president it will not be my job — and I believe it would be wrong — for me to impose my personal faith beliefs on the American people or to decide any kind of decision, policy decision, that will affect America on the basis of my personal faith beliefs,” he said.
— Obama said he is a “strong believer in the separation of church and state.”
“I support it not just for the state but also for the church, because that maintains our religious independence and that’s why we have such a thriving religious life,” he said. “But what I also think is that we are under obligation in public life to translate our religious values into moral terms that all people can share, including those who are not believers. And that is how our democracy’s functioning, will continue to function. That’s what the founding fathers intended.”