New Yorkers Approve Making Constitution Gender-Neutral

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"Mankind" is out and "humankind" in under an amendment approved by voters Tuesday to make New York state's 244-year-old constitution gender-neutral.

The amendment, earlier approved by the state Legislature, will change the 46-page document in 170 places, adding a "she" where there had previously been only a "he."

The term "firefighter" replaces "fireman" and "worker" takes the place of "workman."

With 65 percent of precincts reporting, there were 548,434 votes or 53 percent in favor of the amendment, and 488,223 votes or 47 percent opposed.

The battle to make the constitution gender-neutral was led by women's groups and female politicians.

"We are no longer living in the dark ages when women were excluded from the political process," said state Democratic Chairwoman Judith Hope. "Our official documents should reflect the progress we've made."

In fact, while New York has had a leadership role in women's rights -- they won the right to vote in New York in 1917, a full three years before women's suffrage was adopted nationally -- it wasn't until last year that Hillary Rodham Clinton became the first woman ever independently elected statewide when she won a Senate seat.

Opposition came from political and religious conservatives who said it was a case of political correctness run amok.

"In a time when our state is facing serious problems ... it seems frivolous to change our constitution to make it gender-neutral," said state Conservative Party Chairman Michael Long.

The Rev. Duane Motley of the conservative group New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms called the ballot question "foolishness," saying it represented "the feminizing of our society."

"It's not going to really change anything. We'll just be more politically correct," Motley said.

Despite the strong feelings on each side, the proposed amendment drew little attention and there was no paid advertising for or against it. Most voters, even some supposedly politically savvy ones, appeared unaware of it.

Clinton said last week that she didn't know it was on the ballot.

"I did not hear about it," she said. "I think other states have done that, haven't they?"

Five other states -- California, Hawaii, Maine, Rhode Island and Vermont -- do have gender-neutral constitutions and Florida is to join the list in January 2003.

But in Nebraska last year, 57 percent of voters rejected a proposal to make that state's constitution gender-neutral.