« Previous  
 Next »

Vermont Women: Seibert on Gender Inclusivity

03/23/12 7:55AM By Ann Seibert
 MP3   Download MP3 

(Host) All this week, VPR has been observing Women's History Month with a special series of essays about Vermont Women and the Law. Today, we conclude our series as former state legislator and commentator Ann Seibert tells the story of how Vermont's constitution became gender inclusive.

(Seibert) When a local newspaper asked me to write a piece about Vermont's 1991 Bicentennial, I began to think about how we could celebrate the 200th birthday of our state's Constitution in a way that would have lasting value and benefit. I thought about words, which can be the tyrants of language or important tools for justice, and how a Vermont Constitution rewritten in inclusive language could make a difference. Perhaps domestic violence and sexual abuse would be reduced if girls and women - and especially boys and men - understood that the rights of all Vermonters were imbedded in our State's highest document.

In the aisles of Dan & Whit's, our general store, I ran into Peter Teachout, a Professor At Vermont Law School and a constitutional scholar.  I asked him to write a memo about the probability of a proposal to amend the Vermont Constitution in gender inclusive language.

The Teachout Memo was positive and supportive and a bill was introduced in the Legislature in Montpelier based on precedent, quote, "Article (52) The Justices of the Supreme Court are hereby authorized and directed to revise Chapters I and II of the Constitution in gender inclusive language. This revision shall not alter sense, meaning or effect of the sections of the Constitution."

A proposal of amendment may be introduced only in a specific year, every four years, must begin in the Senate, pass the House and the Senate in two consecutive biennium, have public hearings throughout the State and be printed on election ballots.

Things seldom go well or smoothly in politics and we encountered stumbling blocks - like a deeply held devotion to the antique word freeman - another word for ‘citizen' -  and the demand by some House members to see a draft of the revision before voting. But after some legislative drama, all was resolved and "The Freeman's Oath" became "The Voter's Oath".

The first draft of the revised Constitution, however, included awkward alternatives throughout, like "he/she" and "him/her." Drafts with improved English followed and  the Gender Amendment was put on the November 8, 1994 ballot. And thanks to the hard work of many, the Gender Amendment passed overwhelming with 66% of the statewide vote.

The Vermont Constitution was brought up to date by changing or augmenting nine words. He, him, his, himself, man, men, freemen, freeman and widow were variously replaced or augmented with oneself, members, officer, voter, people, person, elector, and voter. Widower was added to the word widow.

Words are, indeed, important tools for justice.


Tags

vermont_women_2012
comments powered by Disqus
Supported By
Become an Underwriter | Find an Underwiter