Article 20, Chapter I of the Vermont Constitution gives Vermonters the right to "instruct their Representatives." Section 16 of Chapter II of the Constitution requires Representatives to use the "best of [their] judgment and ability" in acting as "guardian[s] of the people." If you were a member of the Vermont House of Representatives and in your judgment a bill would benefit Vermont, but your constituents opposed it, how would you vote, and why?
December, 1999. My mom drives me down out of Marlboro, and I stare out the window. As we round the bend on the way to Route 9, all I see is “Take Back Vermont” signs and barns with “Take Back Vermont” proudly painted on the side. I curiously ask my mom what they mean. She explains, and I understand the concept, but don’t really process the significance of it. But then I also begin to see “Take Vermont Forward” bumper stickers. I realize that this is a battle.
Today, in 2005, I now understand the significance of those signs. In December 1999, a case was brought before the Supreme Court of Vermont, called Baker v. State, in which some gay and lesbian couples sued Vermont, because they believed they should have all the same protections, rights, and benefits as opposite-sex couples. They also believed they should be able to marry. They won the case, and the court declared that it was unconstitutional for gay couples to not have the same rights and benefits as straight couples. But the court left the decision about legalizing gay marriage to the legislature. The state legislature adopted a parallel system called Civil Unions. Some representatives voted for this act, and the legislators decided it was for the good of Vermont and should be carried out. Many of the constituents of the representatives didn’t like the idea, and several representatives were not elected again. However, they managed to fight for what they thought was for the good of the state under the immense pressure of their constituents.
Vermont has a long history of making laws that benefit everybody. In 1777, Vermont was the first state to outlaw the enslavement of any male over the age of 21. Captain Ebenezer Allen thought it “not right in the sight of God to keep slaves.” In the very first Vermont constitution, (which was before the U.S. constitution) there was a Bill of Rights. In the U.S. Constitution, a Bill of Rights didn’t come until later. In 1846, the Rutland Herald estimated that 4 out of every 5 Vermonters were opposed to slavery. Vermont supported gay rights even before there was a civil-unions law. In the early to mid 1990s, it passed many gay-right laws including a hate crimes bill and a law allowing second parent adoption, among other laws.
I believe that Representatives should do what they believe is legally right, regardless of what their constituents think. Section 16 of Chapter II of the Vermont Constitution requires Representatives to use “the best of [their] judgement and ability” in acting as “guardian[s] of the people.” The “people” include blacks and homosexuals. As a representative, you are supposed to represent your district. You are also supposed to make a difference in the lives of all Vermonters. It can be hard to find a balance between those two things. What if your district doesn’t like the way you are trying to make a difference? If I were in office and in my judgement a bill would benefit Vermont, but was opposed by my constituents, I would vote for it on the basis of what was legal, constitutional, and for the good of the people. However, I wouldn’t just vote the way I felt and hope my constituents liked it, I would converse with them, and talk about why I voted a certain way. If they didn’t agree with me, I would try to persuade them. I would just have to do what I believe is for the good of Vermont and its people.