Janet Mills and Leigh Saufley lead charge to make Maine statutes gender neutral

Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Gov. Janet Mills and Chief Justice Leigh Saufley testified to a legislative committee Thursday in favor of a bill that would replace masculine pronouns in Maine statute with gender-neutral terms.
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The Maine Legislature’s Judiciary Committee on Thursday unanimously recommended making outdated masculine statutory references to the governor and Maine’s high court justices gender neutral.
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The Maine Legislature’s Judiciary Committee on Thursday unanimously recommended making outdated masculine statutory references to the governor and Maine’s high court justices gender neutral.

Democratic Gov. Janet Mills, the state’s first female governor, and Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Leigh Saufley, the first woman to lead the state’s high court, testified in favor of the bill, which is sponsored by House Majority Leader Matt Moonen, D-Portland.

The early version of Moonen’s bill sought to change only language referring to the governor and the judicial branch, but upon finding “dozens and likely hundreds” of masculine references across Maine’s Revised Statutes, Moonen added two amendments.

The first would replace masculine pronouns for secretary of the Senate and clerk of the House with gender-neutral titles, and the second urges the Revisor’s Office to consider incrementally revisiting all 39 statutes to make similar changes where language “makes the outdated assumption that a person is male,” Moonen said.

The amended version now proposes revising the statutes to replace masculine pronouns with gender-neutral titles.

No one offered opposing testimony to the bill, which was only scheduled for a public hearing. But committee members fast-tracked their chance to weigh in on the proposal, which Sen. Shenna Bellows, D-Manchester, called “incredibly important and historic.” The full committee voted to recommend that the full Legislature pass the bill into law.

“To me, this legislation is about every Maine woman and girl knowing that she is equally deserving of the same opportunities and equally capable of serving as governor … or as chief or associate justice,” Mills told the committee.

Mills, formerly the state’s attorney general and first female district attorney, said the changes will “demonstrate our group commitment to equal treatment under the law,” and “send a message to future generations that gender is not a gatekeeper or a barrier to success.”

As a first-year college student in 1973, Saufley said she remembers when Gov. Kenneth Curtis nominated Harriet Henry as the first woman to serve in Maine’s district court system. Saufley was appointed to the district court by Gov. John McKernan in 1990. Today, she said, 29 percent of Maine’s full-time judges are women.

“Diversity in so many aspects of humanity is critical to vibrant government,” Saufley said.

The bill will be voted on by both chambers in the coming weeks.



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