[FOUNTAIN]Gender and the lawAt a polling station in New York State in December 1872, Susan B. Anthony put a ballot in the box and a landmark trial in the U.S. history began. Because women did not have the right to vote at the time, Ms. Anthony’s ballot was a federal crime and the case was taken to court. In a trial that took place half a year later, Ms. Anthony was found guilty and fined $100. But she declared that she was determined to continue her labor until all citizens were equal. The case encouraged the voices championing female suffrage, and in 1920, the United States ratified the 19th amendment to the Constitution, which said, “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.”
In 1980, a “men’s rebellion” started when the United States revived the military Selective Service Act. Because the federal law required 18-year-old men to register for possible military service but excluded women as draft candidates, some men filed a lawsuit challenging the law for gender-based discrimination. The plaintiffs in the the Rostker v. Goldberg case claimed that excluding women from possible military service would be a deprivation of equal rights defined by the 19th amendment. In June, 1981, the Supreme Court affirmed the constitutionality of the male-only draft registration system to “provide for the common good and to insure the security of the United States.”
Set a century apart, the two cases show how gender roles have changed in American society. In the 1960s, other activism for equal rights began to be seen. During this decade, a series of court rulings affirmed women’s rights in welfare, education and other fields. In the 70s, men began to speak out against reverse discrimination. In Orr vs. Orr, an Alabama court annulled in 1979 the state alimony statue that required husbands but not wives to pay alimony upon divorce. The Michael M. v. Sonoma County Superior Court case affirmed the California state “statutory rape” law in 1981; it found men criminally liable for having sexual intercourse with “a female not the wife of the perpetrator, where the female is under the age of 18 years.”
In Korea, married daughters of a clan filed a lawsuit to secure their clan rights. The Supreme Court used to be a symbol of conservatism, but it opened hearings on gender discrimination, marking a turning point in its history. Will male complaints be far behind?
by Lee Kyu-youn
The writer is a deputy city news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.