As part of the 117th Congress now in progress, the House passed a new code of conduct that includes what House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office calls “sweeping” ethical reforms, some of which are designed to promote diversity and inclusion.
Rules Committee Chairman James P. McGovern and Pelosi, who was just re-elected, introduced the new set of rules ahead of the start of the session’s start. After several hours of debate, it passed Jan. 4 along party lines, with a vote of 217-206.
The new rules dictate that an Office of Diversity and Inclusion will be a permanent addition. Also, the code of conduct redefines what constitutes acceptable language during Congressional hearings. Previously, the House operated under a binary rule that “words importing one gender include the other as well,” according to The Hill. But the change to language regarding gender-neutral pronouns and familial relationships will, as the release from Pelosi’s office notes, “honor all gender identities.”
“Democrats have crafted a package of unprecedented, bold reforms, which will make the House more accountable, transparent and effective in our work to meet the needs of the American people,” Pelosi said in a statement. “These future-focused proposals reflect our priorities as a caucus and as a country, including crushing the coronavirus, addressing economic disparity, combating the climate crisis, advancing inclusion, and promoting integrity in government.”
Under the changes, words like “father,” “mother,” “son,” “daughter,” “brother” and “sister” will be replaced in official documents by the gender-neutral terms “parent,” “child” or “sibling,” respectively.
Many anti-LGBTQ+ policymakers attacked the new reforms, including Representative Kevin McCarthy, House Minority Leader, who supported the Defense of Marriage Act banning same-sex marriage.
McCarthy wrote on Twitter, “This is stupid. Signed, a father, son, and brother.”
This is stupid.
– A father, son, and brother https://t.co/bG9SlRAy6N
— Kevin McCarthy (@SpeakerMcCarthy) January 2, 2021
But many others supported the proposals.
Twitter user Lorne McCaffrey suggested that everyone voicing their disapproval “find something worthwhile to get upset about.”
The government will have to refer mothers & fathers as "parents," & brothers & sisters as "siblings."
Oh, the horror.
Find something worthwhile to get upset about. Trust me, there's plenty to choose from.
— Lorne McCaffrey (@____Concerned) January 2, 2021
While people on Twitter argued it out, others considered whether the changes would make any lasting change.
“I could see if the goal were to draft legislation with gender-neutral language for the sake of clarity and/or scope, but this just appears to be a totally unrelated virtue signal controlling how congress members refer to each other,” one Twitter user pointed out.
The new code of conduct was part of a package that also included provisions for remote voting, actions to protect whistleblowers and rules that limit the minority’s ability to amend legislation on the floor.
The new rules won’t prevent the use of gendered terms by members of Congress: Only official documentation would need to meet the new requirements. And it’s worth noting that there are still no non-binary representatives in either the House or the Senate.