A freshman state representative wants to strike the word “he” entirely from the Massachusetts Constitution, substituting “they” in an effort to make the 239-year-old document gender-neutral — but critics say the Legislature has more important work to do.
“This isn’t a gimmick. For me, it’s really about making sure that the Constitution is as an inclusive a document as we can make it,” Rep. Mindy Domb said. “It says ‘he,’ it doesn’t mean ‘he,’ it doesn’t mean only men. There are lots of women who are in office. It means all of us. We need to make sure that the document says that so all of us and all of our kids can see themselves in this Constitution.”
The Amherst Democrat proposed two amendments to the state Constitution at a joint Judiciary Committee hearing Tuesday. Her first would allow legislators of any religion to affirm their allegiance rather than swear it, which currently only Quakers can do. That made her realize that all people are referred to as “he,” more than 80 times in the Constitution, with the exception of notaries public, a section in which women are specified using “she.”
There are likely no legal implications to the change, constitutional lawyer Harvey Silverglate said — but he also called it “meaningless and unnecessary.”
“In this instance, in the name of gender inclusivity, it is simply to make an ideological statement but having no practical implication,” Silverglate said. “There is enough real work to do in this country without make-work.”
Massachusetts GOP Chairman Jim Lyons, known for derailing a bill that would have added a third gender “X” to Massachusetts driver’s licenses, said, “It seems like during the midst of an opioid epidemic, the Judiciary Committee would have more important things to consider.”
But Ev Evnen of the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition said the language should be changed to include all gender identities.
“I think there is a real benefit to not using ‘he’ as a stand-in for all people,” Evnen said. “This is just another example of how when we make things more inclusive for transgender folks and non-binary folks, oftentimes we make things more inclusive for everyone.”
The process of amending the constitution can take years, and involves two successive sessions passing the legislation before going out to ballot for voter approval. Proposed constitutional amendments have to be reported out earlier than other bills and are due by the end of the month. Co-sponsor Sen. Rebecca L. Rausch (D-Needham) called it “crucial” to achieving gender parity.
“The language in the Constitution, as it currently exists, is archaic and fails to recognize the fact that it’s not just men serving in elected office anymore,” Rausch said. “The language should reflect the reality.”
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