States Balance He’s and She’s

By: - April 3, 2003 12:00 am

Michigan’s governor is a woman but the state constitution refers to Democrat Jennifer Granholm as “he.”

Michigan Rep. Lisa Wojno, D-Warren, wants to change the constitution to gender-neutral language, following the lead of Rhode Island, Maine, Vermont, New York, California, Florida and Hawaii. New Hampshire lawmakers are also considering the change.

Women won the right to vote through the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1920, and many had secured full voting rights by constitutional action in states such as Colorado much earlier. But many state constitutions never envisioned that women would hold political office.

Making these constitutions more inclusive has been unwelcome in places where it’s seen as political correctness run amok. Nebraska voters rejected adding gender-neutral language to the state constitution in 2000. Minnesota lawmakers considered the change in 2001 but didn’t adopt it.

In New Hampshire, gender-neutral reform failed in 1998 and has met resistance this year. Critics said changing the constitution is unnecessary because legally it’s already interpreted to include men and women. They said the constitution is a sacred historical document that shouldn’t be reworded.

Theresa de Langis, executive director of the New Hampshire Commission On The Status Of Women, said women’s role in state government is made invisible by the constitution’s non-inclusive language.

“State constitutions are living historical documents that need to reflect the day and time in which they are protecting their citizens. Sexism in any form, just like racism and slavery, is wrong and should be struck from our governing documents,” de Langis said.

New York voters approved gender-neutral language in 2001. In 170 places, “she” was added where there had only been a “he.” Terms such as fireman and policeman were changed to firefighter and police officer. “Mankind” changed to “humankind.”

New York’s ballot measure overcame opposition from the Conservative Party which urged voters to reject it as frivolous “feel-good legislation” that accomplishes nothing.

New York Assemblywoman Sandy Galef, D-Ossining, a driving force behind the changes, said, “My response to people who said that was, what would happen, as a man, if the constitution was written all about women? Wouldn’t you want it changed to reflect that there are men involved too in the state? Then they’d come along on board.”

In Michigan, Rep. Wojno’s gender-neutral resolution could be on the statewide ballot this year if two-thirds of the House and Senate approve it.

But Michigan’s Gov. Granholm is more concerned with the state’s bottom line than gender-neutral words.

Granholm press secretary Liz Boyd said, “We don’t have a position on that as long as a change in the constitution doesn’t cost us any money.”

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