California Lawmakers Push to Rewrite All State Laws To Reflect Gender Neutral Language

California lawmakers are pushing to rewrite all state laws to reflect gender neutral terms.

The California Legislature passed Democratic Assemblywoman Rebecca Bauer-Kahan's bill Thursday to revise laws governing statewide elected officials by replacing references to "he," "him" and "his" with gender-neutral terms.

Bauer-Kahan's bill is a part of an effort to adjust state laws and official forms, according to the Associated Press. She said, "it's important to do this work."

"We have women serving in our highest offices, and the (sections) of the code referring to them only in the male pronoun was pretty shocking to me. It doesn't represent where California is and where California is going," said Bauer-Kahan.

Since the Legislature approved the bill, it is now up to Gov. Gavin Newsom to review it. Another bill was passed Thursday for allowing death certificates to use nonbinary as a gender specification.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

California State Capitol
A view of the California State Capitol February 19, 2009 in Sacramento, California. California lawmakers are pushing to rewrite all state laws to reflect gender neutral terms. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

When Newsom was searching for a new attorney general earlier this year, Bauer-Kahan looked up the job requirements and made a surprising discovery: In many instances, the law assumed the attorney general is a man.

Sprinkled throughout the state code were references to "he" and "him" and "his" when referring to the attorney general and other statewide elected officials, even though Vice President Kamala Harris had been the state's first female attorney general and Eleni Kounalakis is the first woman elected as lieutenant governor.

That will likely change after the state Legislature passed her bill.

Across the U.S., many states have required all new legislation to be written this way.

Minnesota did a complete statutory revision in 1986 to remove gender-specific language, according to Mick Bullock, public affairs director for the National Conference of State Legislatures.

In recent years, California has passed laws allowing a third gender option on state driver's licenses, identification cards and birth certificates. Death certificates are a major source of data for public health research.

A California law passed two years ago requires school districts to reissue high school diplomas to update peoples' names and genders if they are different since graduation. This year, lawmakers are considering a bill by Democratic Assemblyman David Chiu that would do the same thing for college diplomas.

But updating California's laws will take more time. Usually, whenever the Legislature passes a bill to change a law, it includes updated gender-neutral terms. But the state has tens of thousands of laws, so many that bound books — each with about 500 pages — fill an entire wall at the California State Library.

Bauer-Kahan's bill is an attempt to speed up that process. In 2019, the Legislature updated family law to include gender-neutral terms.

This year, Democratic state Sen. John Laird has a bill that would update gender references in laws governing various state agencies — including the California Highway Patrol, the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection and the Department of Insurance.

The legislation updating laws governing statewide elected officials is AB 378.

The legislation allowing nonbinary to be listed on death certificates is AB 439.

Assemblywoman Rebecca Bauer-Kahan
In this Jan. 23, 2020, file photo, Assemblywoman Rebecca Bauer-Kahan, D-Orinda, smiles at the Capitol in Sacramento, Calif. On Thursday, June 24, 2021, the state legislature approved two measures authored by Bauer-Kahan, that will change how the state refers to gender in official documents. Rich Pedroncelli/AP Photo