BOSTON — The state Constitution has been amended 121 times since it was ratified more than 240 years ago, most recently in 2006, when voters approved the state's health care law.

But some on Beacon Hill say the historical parchment, penned by Massachusetts' own founding father, John Adams, is in need of a different kind of revision.

A group of lawmakers want to update the Constitution to make it gender-neutral, changing the pronoun "he" to "the person" throughout the document.

"We are making such great strides to become inclusive in the commonwealth," Rep. Mindy Domb, D-Amherst, primary sponsor of the bill, told members of the Legislature's Judiciary Committee on Tuesday. "We should make sure the Constitution reflects that."

There are at least 83 references to "he" in the document, which begins with the words: "All men are born free and equal, and have certain natural, essential, and unalienable rights."

Domb pointed out the word "person" is already used 64 times in the document.

"By striking the word 'he' and replacing it with 'the person,' we are making the Constitution more consistent as well as gender inclusive," she told the panel.

Several states, including Vermont and Maine, have changed their constitutions to use gender-neutral language, while others are considering doing so, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

New York voters approved such changes in 2001. Rhode Island also made the switch.

Roughly half of all U.S. states have moved toward gender-neutral language, in drafts of laws and proposed revisions of their state constitutions.

The Massachusetts proposal was one of 10 Constitutional amendments heard by the panel on Tuesday, the first step toward getting on the ballot. The Legislature is expected to convene a joint session next month to consider the amendments.

Domb has filed another proposal to allow state and local elected officials to decline to recite the phase "so help me, God" when taking the oath of office.

That amendment, which was advanced by the Judiciary Committee in the previous two-year session, calls for substituting a secular version, known as the Quaker oath, which states, "This I do under the pains and penalties of perjury."

"It doesn't take God out of the Constitution," Domb said. "This only allows for an option for a person, regardless of their religion, to take the oath."

Another proposal, filed by House Minority Leader Brad Jones, R-North Reading, would prohibit the state from using the eminent domain law to take private property.

State law allows citizens to petition their representatives and senators to file proposed amendments to the Constitution.

A proposed amendment filed by Vincent Dixon, a Winchester Republican who ran unsuccessfully for the Governor's Council in 2014, would establish a term renewal process requiring state judges to be reconfirmed every 10 years.

Currently, judges are appointed for life after being nominated by the governor, vetted by a state commission and confirmed by the Governor's Council.

Supporters of the dozen or so constitutional amendments acknowledge they face a long slog.

To be successful, amendments must be approved by two consecutive Legislatures — a process that could take three years or more. The earliest a proposal could be put on a ballot for voters is November 2024.

Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for The Salem News and its sister newspapers and websites. Email him at


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