Legal texts in Germany usually use the masculine version of words such as “employee” or “landlord” to cover both men and women.
But campaigners have been arguing for years that using this language excludes women or gives the impression they are less important.
The draft law on insolvency and restructuring exclusively uses terms such as “Arbeitnehmerinnen” (female employees) instead of the masculine “Arbeitnehmer”.
“I think it is good that we are now discussing gender-equal language in legal texts and that a ball has been set rolling,” Katja Mast of the Social Democrats (SPD), the party of Justice Minister Christine Lambrecht, told the ARD public broadcaster.
But the Interior Ministry said Monday it had demanded a revision of the bill over concerns that it “might apply only to women… and would thus most likely be unconstitutional”.
The masculine form “is recognised for people of both the male and female sex” while the feminine is “not yet linguistically recognised as applying to female and male persons”, it said.
Wolfgang Steiger, secretary of the ruling CDU party's Economic Council, said the business world had no time for such “gimmicks”.
“The time for a reformed insolvency law is running out – but the Justice Ministry is not taking it seriously,” he told the Augsburger Allgemeine newspaper.
The German Language Association (VDS) also criticised the move.
“The fact that the ministry of justice, of all people, is failing to formulate a legally binding text is quite something,” said VDS chairman Walter Krämer.
The Justice Ministry said the draft would be revised before it was submitted to the cabinet and is “not yet finished”.
However a spokesman insisted that draft laws are supposed to “express gender equality in language” according to rules for ministries.