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Buttars: 'I don't have anything to apologize for'

Published February 20, 2009 6:59 pm

Senate » He remains defiant after anti-gay remarks bring discipline at Capitol
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2009, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Despite being stripped of his membership and chairmanship of two Senate committees for his anti-gay rant, Sen. Chris Buttars was defiant Friday.

He strongly disagreed with the decision by Senate leaders from his own party to reprimand him and refused to apologize to those who said they were hurt by his comments.

"I don't have anything to apologize for," the West Jordan Republican said.

In a statement posted on the Senate GOP's Web site, he went further.

"When it comes right down to it, I would rather be censured for doing what I think is right, than be honored by my colleagues for bowing to the pressure of a special-interest group that has been allowed to act with impunity," Buttars said.

The Senate reprimand came after Buttars said to a documentary filmmaker that homosexuals were the "greatest threat to America," compared them to radical Muslims, said they lack morals and want special rights.

"It's the beginning of the end," Buttars said. "Oh, it's worse than that. Sure. Sodom and Gomorrah was localized. This is worldwide."

The outrage prompted a frank, closed-door discussion among Senate Republicans on Thursday, and Senate President Michael Waddoups said he decided to boot Buttars off of two committees -- the Senate Judiciary, Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee and the Senate Judicial Confirmation Committee -- both of which Buttars leads.

"I want the citizens of Utah to know that the Utah Senate stands behind Senator Buttars' right to speak, we stand behind him as one of our colleagues and his right to serve this state," Waddoups said. "He is a senator who represents the point of view of many of his constituents and many of ours. We agree with many of the things he said. …We stand four square behind his right [to say what he wants]."

Waddoups refused repeatedly to clarify which of Buttars' opinions are shared by himself or Senate leaders.

He said the decision to remove Buttars from the committees was ultimately his own as president, a move he made so the Senate could function smoothly. The judiciary committee, in recent years, has heard most of the bills dealing with gay and lesbian rights, and removing Buttars from his position would remove the "personalities" and focus on the issues, Waddoups said.

However, the Legislature has defeated all of the so-called Common Ground initiatives, which sought to extend some rights to same-sex couples, including one that Buttars helped defeat in the judiciary committee.

"It frees Senator Buttars to feel more at ease in saying how he personally feels without feeling as if he's personally speaking on behalf of his committee and the Legislature," Waddoups said.

Waddoups said his e-mail account had been basically shut down by more than 11,000 e-mails he had received, part of an effort by the Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest gay-rights group, to deluge the Senate with calls for a condemnation of Buttars' comments. The mass e-mails, he said, mean nothing in his eyes.

"I think its been probably the toughest 24 hours of my 22 years in the Legislature," he said. "It has my temples pounding. It creates all sorts of emotions."

Buttars chaired a Judiciary Committee hearing Friday morning and appeared to be in good spirits, smiling and joking. Waddoups said he met with Buttars and inquired about his state of mind and to let him know he has the support of his Senate colleagues.

Sen. Scott McCoy, D-Salt Lake City, Utah's only openly gay senator, said the punishment felt inadequate to him. He would like to have seen Buttars lose all of his chairmanships, particularly the vice-chairmanship of the rules committee, which has considerable muscle in the closing weeks of the session.

"It seems like Republican Senate leadership were more interested in defending Buttars' right to free speech than defending the reputation and image of the…Utah Senate," he said. "I think the best way to wash away this stain would be to bite the bullet and pass the Common Ground initiative. That would erase any question of whether bias exists in the Utah Legislature."

A spokeswoman for Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. said that Buttars' comments "did not represent the views of the fair-minded people of Utah, and I think that this is an example of why we need to find a common place where everybody is respected."

"As an elected official, certainly we're in the spotlight more than other people. We need to be extraordinarily careful about the things we say," said Senate Minority Leader Pat Jones, D-Holladay.

Salt Lake City resident Rebecca Huggins, who considers herself an ally of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community, said Buttars' losing his chairmanship is "a start." She would like to see him "step up and resign."

"He is representing the state of Utah internationally right now," she said. "It is an embarrassment when he's spoken so unfairly, untruthfully and prejudicially."

Huggins lost a brother, who was gay, to suicide four years ago. "He cited in his note the prejudices of society," she said.

It is not the first time Buttars has made inflammatory statements that have subjected him to public scorn and drawn a rebuke from the Senate.

A year ago, he made comments on the Senate floor that were deemed racially insensitive during debate on a school-construction bill. He apologized for the remarks, but the NAACP called for his resignation. He refused and won re-election.

He also was removed as head of the Senate Judicial Confirmation Committee last year by then-Senate President John Valentine, R-Orem, after it was revealed that Buttars wrote a letter on Senate letterhead scolding a judge who had ruled against his friend.

Valentine lost his bid to be re-elected as Senate president partly because of frustration with the way the Buttars situation was handled.

Waddoups, who restored Buttars to the confirmation committee and gave him several other prime committee posts, initially said it would be "highly inappropriate" to take action against Buttars for expressing his personal opinion.

But the discontent in the Republican caucus, and threats from Democrats to publicly condemn Buttars on the Senate floor, forced Waddoups to act.

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Tribune reporter Rosemary Winters contributed to this story.

Sen. Chris Buttars' statement:

"I was disappointed to learn of the Utah State Senate's censure on Feb. 20, 2009. However, this action will not discourage me from defending marriage from an increasingly vocal and radical segment of the homosexual community.

"In recent years, registering opposition to the homosexual agenda has become almost impossible. Political correctness has replaced open and energetic debate. Those who dare to disagree with the homosexual agenda are labeled 'haters,' and 'bigots,' and are censured by their peers. The media contributes to the problem. Increasingly, individuals with conservative beliefs are targeted by a left-leaning media that uses their position of public trust as a bully pulpit. This pattern of intimidation suppresses free speech.

"For the record, I do not agree with the censure. I see it as an attempt to shy away from controversy. In particular, I disagree with my removal as chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, since my work there is entirely unrelated to my opposition to the homosexual agenda.

"Still, I'm a grown man and I can take my knocks. When it comes right down to it, I would rather be censured for doing what I think is right, than be honored by my colleagues for bowing to the pressure of a special-interest group that has been allowed to act with impunity.

"Thanks to the many citizens who have written and called to express their support. Please know that I'll live through this to fight another day. In years to come, we'll all look back at this point in history and see it as a crossroads. I have no intention of resigning."