Resolution would make Utah Constitution gender neutral

‘Just common sense’ to change ‘his or him’ references, senator says

By Lisa Riley Roche @lisarileyroche Jan 29, 2019, 1:48pm MST

SALT LAKE CITY — Making sure the entire Utah Constitution is gender neutral is “just common sense,” said the sponsor of a resolution that would start the amendment process.

“Most of it, even back then, was written in this way that included both genders. But there’s just these few little sections that don’t, so I thought why not,” the sponsor of SJR7, Sen. Deidre Henderson, R-Spanish Fork, said.

Henderson said only six sections of the 45-page Utah Constitution need to be amended. Her resolution, if passed by two-thirds of the Legislature, would go before voters in November 2020.

She said the issue was brought to her by a constituent who said one part of the constitution says, “All political power is inherent in the people” but the section just above says, “all men” have inherent and inalienable rights.

It turned out there are other sections where only men are referred to, including those dealing “with criminals and legislators who need to be impeached or not take bribes. Those just say, ‘his or him,'” Henderson said.

“I think it’s fair to assume not all criminals are male,” Henderson said, nor are all members of the Legislature.

So far, the response has been mixed to the resolution that has been assigned to the Senate Government Operations and Political Subdivisions Committee for an as-yet unscheduled hearing.

“I’m getting a lot of positive feedback,” Henderson said. “I’m also getting some people who are worried that there’s some kind of broader agenda here, which there is not, to remove gender altogether, which is not what’s happening.”

She said she’s not sure how the resolution will fare this session.

“I don’t know. The people that I’ve talked to individually about it right now have no problem with it because it’s just common sense. There’s nothing nefarious about it,” the senator said.

Her goal is to get the issue before voters.

“There will be some people who don’t like it, but ultimately I think the people should decide. This is the people’s document and they should decide whether or not they want it to reflect reality,” Henderson said.

The bottom line is that the constitution should consistently use language that makes it clear it applies to everyone, she said, noting history suggests that’s what was intended.

“One of the things that I think is really cool about our constitution is that they fought back in 1896, they really fought, to make sure that it included women’s suffrage,” Henderson said.

While Wyoming ended up being the first state to give women the vote by a few weeks, Utah was the first state where women voted, on Feb. 14, 1870, 150 years ago next year.

“What I’m doing is taking the parts that just say ‘his or him,’ that are supposed to apply to everybody, and putting in ‘persons’ or ‘his or her’ in those spots,” she said. “It’s not something new to our constitution.”