“He is commander and chief … . If he approves a bill, he shall sign it … . If he vetoes a bill, he shall return it with his objections … .”
Researching the governor’s duties as a legislative aide at the Minnesota Senate, I was struck by the outdated language that assumed the governor would be male. Then, I started from the top. Our highest governing document refers to citizens, the governor, judges, clerks, our secretary of state and landowners all as “he.” The Minnesota Constitution does not mention women once. Men’s rights and roles, on the other hand, appear 69 times. Troubled by our legal invisibility, I brought my revelation to state Sen. Sandy Pappas, who drafted SF 522, a bipartisan constitutional amendment providing gender-neutral terms.
In 1858, the obscuration of women’s roles in society was ubiquitous and strategic. Our state’s founders created a republic based on male governance and female subordination through the use of gendered language — inscribing citizens, politicians and landowners as males in our supreme law reflected the era’s reality, but also served as a deliberate effort to sustain the state’s patriarchal hierarchy. Since statehood, our realities and aspirations have evolved, and we use the constitutional amendment process to reflect that. More than 200 constitutional amendments have been proposed: allowing African-Americans the right to vote, removing other “obsolete” language, allowing women to serve on library boards and more. The invisibility of women’s existence in our language has never been challenged.
The Constitution was never meant to be a history book. It was designed to change to reflect reality. Today, Minnesota boasts a female lieutenant governor, female representatives and senators, a female chief justice and we elected Ilhan Omar, who set several historic “firsts” for Congress. Since 1858, we have made great strides in political parity, but we must clean up our supreme law to reflect this reality, acknowledge women’s actual and political existence, and provide a Constitution that the next generation of girls can see themselves in. A gender-neutral constitution is open to all, welcomes diversity and moves beyond our past oppressions.
I believe we have become complicit with subordination. The fact that we don’t linguistically exist in our Constitution is not reflective of Minnesota’s values. It is not OK. It is not inclusive. It is not an issue that is too menial for our attention. Seven other states have already made the change, and seven others are considering it. Minnesota has always been a progressive leader in our nation, and it’s our time to show that, once again. If SF 522 and HF 2766 are approved by a simple majority of both chambers, the people of Minnesota will have the chance to vote on this issue on the next ballot.
After all, can you imagine a constitution surviving for 163 years without acknowledging men’s existence?
Kristin Trapp, of Minneapolis, is student at the University of Minnesota Law School and attended the Gender Institute at the London School of Economics. She testified at a committee hearing on a House version of the gender neutrality legislation on Tuesday.