Democrats demand further action over Buttars' anti-gay remarks

Published February 24, 2009 10:45 am
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Senate Democrats said this morning that Sen. Chris Buttars' punishment for his anti-gay remarks has been inadequate and asked Senate President Michael Waddoups to remove him from the powerful Rules Committee.

"President Waddoups put faith in Sen. Buttars and appointed him to very important and key positions. Unfortunately, Sen. Buttars betrayed that trust," said Senate Minority Leader Pat Jones, D-Salt Lake City, who also sought Buttars' removal from the Senate Health and Human Services Committee.

"Removing Senator Buttars from these key positions …would be sending a clear message to Utahns, Americans and humankind that we do not tolerate bad behavior in the Utah Senate," she said.

Waddoups, however, said he has already responded publicly to Buttars comments a week ago, but he could remove members from other committees if they had conflicts - an apparent reference to Sen. Scott McCoy, D-Salt Lake City, the only openly gay senator who also sits on the Rules Committee.

McCoy said he would be happy to step aside if Buttars is also removed, so that neither can affect gay-oriented legislation going through the committee.

"That may add some fairness to it where they both have conflicts that are very obvious," Waddoups said.

The Democrats' request comes a week after Buttars made numerous controversial comments to a documentary filmmaker about gays and lesbians. He said gays lack morals, pose the greatest internal threat to the country and engage in disgusting sexual practices.

Republicans met for two hours in a closed-door caucus yesterday to air concerns and grievances about the Buttars situation, the third time GOP senators have met to grapple with the issue. Waddoups confirmed that it was suggested during the meeting that Buttars should just resign.

Jones said Democrats have not taken a position on whether the senator should resign his seat. She said the minority party - which holds eight of the 29 Seante seats - have been trying to work with Senate leadership to make its viewpoints known and does not plan to force the issue by bringing it up on the Senate floor.

McCoy called Buttars remarks "a stain on the institution of the Senate and the process."

"What I have a problem with is when I am accused … or members of the gay community are accused of being a threat to America, which I love and will defend," or when the families of gay and transgender people are called immoral, McCoy said.

"The minute that discussion sinks below that level to a place that is beneath us all … that is where we have to stand up and say we won't tolerate that conduct," he said

At least one of the eight Democrats, Sen. Gene Davis, wants his party to let the Buttars issue fade away. He says Utahns are "turned off" by the debate and want to move on.

"Elected officials are inherently held to a higher standard of conduct," Jones said. "When we speak out on matters of personal faith, claims of conscience … public policy should seek solutions that are fair to all."

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