Rep. Armini's Legislation Seeks to Add “Her” and “Their” Pronouns to State Constitution
Yesterday afternoon, State Representative Jenny Armini testified before the Joint Committee on the Judiciary on behalf of legislation she filed to amend the Massachusetts Constitution to add “Her” and “Their” as options when referring to the Governor’s Excellency and Lieutenant Governor’s Honor titles.
As a practical matter, former Acting Governor Jane Swift and former Lieutenant Governors Evelyn Murphy and Karen Polito were routinely referred to as “Her Excellency” or “Her Honor,” respectively, but Armini seeks to formalize those designations in the Massachusetts Constitution – also moving to add “Their” into the mix.
Armini's bills – H.30 and H.31 – would add “Her” and “Their,” to the existing “His” pronoun preceding the two honorifics. Including “Their” would "go a step further,” she testified, “by imagining a time in the not-too-distant future when someone unencumbered by gender or gender assigned at birth sits in the corner office.”
Marblehead Beacon spoke with Armini after her testimony, asking her why she believes one’s sex at birth is an encumbrance. “That was just a rhetorical flourish,” she said, noting that she does not want office holders to “feel the weight of established definitions.”
Because she also testified that “history has blown by the Massachusetts Constitution,” we asked Armini whether using “their” to describe those who identify as non-binary might be viewed as insufficient to satisfy the current trend of selecting from a wide array of “neopronouns.” For example, as reported in Bloomberg and other publications in recent years, many colleges, hospitals, and other institutions have pull-down menus that offer up such options as “ze,” “xe,” and “ne,” and there also are activist groups and individuals who believe that some individuals' genders change throughout the day, month, or year, and opt to use a variety of pronouns not reflected in “their.”
While the bills cannot be modified for this session, further amending “would be a possibility for next session if [the bills] are not reported out” to change the wording to something like, “‘whose title shall be Excellency preceded by the appropriate pronoun,’” she told us. With respect to the myriad “neopronouns” circulating, Armini noted that adding “a laundry list [would be] silly,” and that “we can solve a problem today without solving future problems.”
When discussing the slippery slope of wordsmithing the Constitution, we brought up designations like “Excellency” and “Honor,” which hail from the British monarchy. But Armini believes that leaving those in the Commonwealth’s Constitution makes sense as a nod to Massachusetts history. “It is a vestige of our colonial times.”
Quoting author George Orwell, Armini testified, “‘Thought corrupts language; language can also corrupt thought’” to support the idea of amending the Massachusetts Constitution. “Language is a signal to the world,” she said in her testimony. “It’s how we communicate our values and it’s a tool by which citizens learn who and what is important.”
Armini told us, “my daughter and trans brother-in-law don’t see themselves in the Constitution.” In her estimation, “the fundamental document of the state needs to reflect every citizen.”
After Armini’s approximately four minutes of testimony in support of the two bills, the Chair asked if there were any questions from those lawmakers or others present at the hearing. There were none.
The Judiciary Committee has until April 26th to issue a positive or negative report on the bills, said Armini. Then the Massachusetts Legislature would have until May 10th to decide whether the bills would be voted upon during this session's Constitutional Convention. If they were to pass by more than 50 percent two sessions in a row, they would be placed on the statewide ballot.