PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — South Dakota voters will decide whether the South Dakota Constitution should become gender neutral.
The state House of Representatives agreed Tuesday to put the question on the 2024 general-election ballot.
The 58-12 vote saw the only opposition to SJR-505 come from Republicans, including four women: Karla Lems, Liz May, Tina Mulally and Bethany Soye.
The rest of the chamber’s 22 women voted yes. The opposition Tuesday was the first that the resolution encountered. The Senate had earlier approved it 35-0.
Republican Rep. Jess Olson delivered the opening speech in the House. She noted that South Dakota elected the first female governor in 2018 (Kristi Noem), had four women appointed to the state Supreme Court (Judith Meierhenry, Lori Wilbur, Janine Kern and Patricia DeVaney) and one elected as lieutenant governor (Carole Hillard), and last year marked the centennial of the first woman elected to the Legislature (Gladys Pyle) who four years later was the first in a long line of women elected as secretary of state.
“So we have had a long history of female leaders in South Dakota, and we will have many more to come,” Olson said. “It’s time for our constitution to be updated to reflect the leaders we have elected in our great state.”
May asked Olson how much it would cost to put the question on the ballot. Olson said there wouldn’t be any because the ballots will be printed anyway. Said May, “Well, obviously from the testimony, it doesn’t seem that women in our state have had much trouble getting elected to office. So I understand the desire to want to do this, but I just don’t think it’s necessary, so I’m not going to support it.”
That brought Republican Rep. Becky Drury out of her chair.
“I support this,” Drury said. “Because when it came up, my thought that ran through the back of my mind was, it’s about time, it’s about time to update it. And, what is the cost to disenfranchise half of our population, which I feel is that’s what it is. If there’s a little girl reading the constitution of the state of South Dakota, and every reference in there is to a male gender, does that really give her the thought or capability in her mind that she can run for that office some day?”
And those remarks in turn brought Soye out of her seat.
“Our constitution does not disenfranchise anyone,” Soye said. “It equally applies to men and women. I think this is a frivolous change and, clearly, women already can rise to positions of authority.”
The governor won’t get to officially weigh in, however. Legislative resolutions don’t require the governor’s approval.