June 1, 2011

Who Is Michael Chippendale? An Elected Official.

Justin Katz

Ed Fitzpatrick highlights the reasoning that state Representative Michael Chippendale (R, Foster) offered for voting in favor of the recently passed civil unions bill, and that reasoning seems to me to be incomplete. I'll note, first, that I come to much the same conclusion as Chippendale, although I favor civil unions that build a slate of rights and privileges from scratch, rather than with reference to marriage, which is what the legislation does:

15-3.1-6. Benefits, protections, and responsibilities. -- A party to a civil union lawfully entered into pursuant to this chapter shall have all the rights, benefits, protections, and responsibilities under law, whether derived from statutes, administrative rules, court decisions, the common law, or any other source of civil or criminal law as people joined together pursuant to chapter 15-3.

15-3 is the chapter that describes civil marriage, and as I've said before, if as a society we're going to create a relationship that confers marriage-like rights, we ought to be explicit about what rights ought to be included and why. Marriage, as traditionally understood, still has the distinction that, by their nature, a husband and wife can create children. In terms of state law, it's absurd for Fitzpatrick to call this legislation "a weak substitute for legalizing same-sex marriage," because there are no benefits to marriage that it leaves out. It may, from his standpoint, have been morally timid not to merge the institutions, but the only sense in which the law, itself, can be said to be "weak" is that it doesn't force religious people or organizations to eliminate their own understanding of marriage everywhere beyond the pulpit.

But back to Chippendale:

Chippendale noted he'd voted against the civil-unions bill in committee and that people quoted Scripture in testifying against the bill.

"But you know what?" he said. "At the end of the day, if my Lord Jesus Christ were here, he would say what he already has said: 'What you do to the least of my children you do to me.' And who in God's name am I to stand here and push a button that would injure one of my brothers and sisters? As a man of faith, I don't have that right."

Chippendale, a Catholic whose district extends to Foster, Glocester and Coventry, voted for the bill, saying, "I'm going to have a lot of people to answer to in my district. But I'm going to say to them: What you do to the least of God's children you do to him."

Who is Chippendale to push a vote button in the General Assembly? Well, he's an elected representative voting on an issue of public policy, and if a society cannot determine through representative democracy that one relationship is different from another in a key way that suggests different benefits, responsibilities, and codification in the law, then there really is no right to self governance.

What's particularly objectionable about Chippendale's reasoning is that it is about as close to theocracy as anybody is apt to get in our time and place. The tolerance of Catholic Christianity does not negate our rights to shape our society in a way that has proven to be the most effective at growing prosperity, decreasing poverty, increasing liberty, and maintaining peace. We'll all have different notions of what that requires, but to insist that setting some small space aside in our society and in the law for the particular human coupling that tends toward the creation of children is hardly injury to our brothers and sisters. Indeed, to the extent that doing otherwise further erodes the institution of marriage, right down to the underpinnings that any traditionalist reform would require, such actions truly do harm "the least of God's children"; they just aren't there in front of us holding protests and applying rhetorical pressure..

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Would this post have been the same if he cited scripture to vote against the bill?

Posted by: Patrick at June 1, 2011 12:47 PM

I'm sure Doreen Costa will have Mr. Chippendale barred from the cool kids' table as a result of his straying from the reservation.
BTW, five of the 10 Republicans in the House voted for civil unions, including Newberry and Trillo. Oh, the betrayal!

Posted by: bella at June 1, 2011 2:04 PM


You've been reading Anchor Rising long enough to know exactly how that would have gone:

Fitzpatrick would have written about how Chippendale's religion-based argument was evidence that arguments against same-sex marriage are all based on premises that shouldn't be admissible in the civic sphere, and I would have written a post saying that the better arguments against SSM are not religious at all.

Posted by: Justin Katz at June 1, 2011 9:03 PM

Hi guys, it's the horse's mouth here...

I used scripture for 2 reasons. First, I'm a Christian and we use the word of the Lord to help guide us when making decisions. There are guiding principles that are far worse - I can assure you. The General Assembly prays every day before session... God isn't a four letter word in the State House (yet). And Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, I had been receiving a lot of comments from folks who were using scripture to justify their position against the bill... so when I rose to speak (which was not planned, I figured that I would just shut up and vote, but I was compelled to engage) - I was saying (in a 'between the lines' sort of way) "I can use scripture too. And I choose to use it to offer a different perspective than what all of us (legislators) have been hearing since January!"

So don't read too much into the simple verse I used. It is not a Republican v. Democrat issue... it was an issue where everyone in the room had their own reasons and feelings behind their votes...

And as a footnote, I still can sit at the cool-kids table...

Posted by: Rep Chippendale at June 2, 2011 8:50 AM

Rep.Chippendale-why should you not use religious belief as reason to vote a certain way?Getting elected to public office doesn't mean you're required to jettison the beliefs that you adhere to in order to guide you through life,so good for you.
It was the sensible solution to a problem that seems to constantly come up amidst much time consuming and emotional testimony.We have other more pressing issues in the state that affect a lot more people than SSM does.
BTW I heard your interview on the Daria Bruno gun show a few months ago and you were outstanding.

Posted by: joe bernstein at June 2, 2011 9:38 AM
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