Domb urging gender-neutral language for state constitution

Boston Statehouse
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Explaining to her colleagues how she came to propose two amendments to the Massachusetts Constitution in her first 15 days as a lawmaker, Rep. Mindy Domb on Tuesday said filing legislation “can sometimes be like pulling a string on a sweater.”

Domb (D-Amherst) testified before the Judiciary Committee on two amendments she’s filed, including one dealing with lawmakers’ oaths of office and another that would replace the word “he” with the gender-neutral pronoun “they” in instances where the constitution is not specifically referring to men.

“For me, it’s really about making sure that the constitution is as inclusive a document as we can make it,” the first-term Amherst Democrat 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, and we need to make sure that the document says that so that all of us and all of our kids can see themselves in this constitution.”

Domb said the Massachusetts Constitution uses the word “he” 84 times and the word “she” only once, in a specific reference to women in a section on notaries public.

The hearing on her proposed amendment (H 80), which is cosponsored by nine other lawmakers, comes after the House and Senate this year adopted rules that replaced the word “chairman” with “chair.”

It was another language issue she encountered when preparing to take her oath of office — the first string she pulled — that prompted her to look more broadly at the constitution’s wording, Domb said.

She said the constitution allows Quakers to “affirm” their oaths instead of “swearing,” which has religious implications.

Domb said she is not a Quaker but was “not really comfortable swearing,” and wanted to be able to affirm her oath instead. She said she wanted to give others the option to affirm oaths as well to be inclusive of various religious or spiritual beliefs.

In reviewing the language around oaths, Domb noticed the use of the pronoun “he.” Her second amendment (H 81) would give anyone taking an oath the option to swear or affirm it, and replace the word “he” in that section with “they.”

Once she took that step in one area, Domb said, “It felt almost like we had to address the other times in the constitution where it also says ‘he’ but doesn’t only refer to men.”

Sen. Jamie Eldridge, the Judiciary Committee’s Senate chair, told Domb he wanted to commend her for her testimony.

“Just in your first few months in the Legislature, you put in an incredible amount of thought into the problem and the challenge, your vision, and drafting these two pieces of legislation,” he said.

Amending the constitution is a process that takes years, and review by a committee is one of the early steps. Committees have until April 24 to report out proposed constitutional amendments, and proposals that are advanced will need to earn the support of a majority of the 200-seat Legislature in two consecutive sessions before the question can placed before voters.

The Judiciary Committee has custody of seven other proposed amendments, including a Rep. Thomas Golden measure (H 82) to impose seven-year renewable term limits upon judges, a Rep. Bradley Jones bill (H 83) prohibiting eminent domain takings, a Sen. Cynthia Creem proposal (S 14) banning amendments that restrict “freedom and equality,” and a Rep. Paul Mark proposal (H 84) requiring the governor to nominate a lieutenant governor, subject to confirmation by the House and Senate, whenever that office becomes vacant.

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