A controversial Utah state senator has been reappointed to the Judiciary, Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee from which he was removed in February as punishment for making anti-gay remarks to a documentary filmmaker.
However, his re-appointment is for the interim session, at which time lawmakers consider issues and bills, but do not vote on them.
Senate Republicans removed Sen. Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan, from his chairmanship of this committee and from membership in the Senate Judicial Confirmation Committee in February after documentary filmmaker Reed Cowan released Buttars’ interview for a Cowan’s documentary on the LDS Church’s role in passing California’s Proposition 8. In the interview, Buttars said that gays and lesbians had no morals, that they practiced “pig sex” and that they were second only to Muslim extremist terrorists as “the biggest threat to this country going down.”
Buttars’ remarks made headlines across the nation and called many gay, transgender and allied Utahns to call for his resignation. Buttars, however, said that he would not apologize or resign.
Days after the controversy began, senate Republicans removed Buttars from both committees. At the time, however, Senate President Michael Waddoups said that leadership had voted to remove Buttars not because they disagreed with his remarks, but because Buttars had violated an agreement not to speak about gay issues publicly.
“We want the citizens of Utah to know that the Utah Senate stands behind Sen. Buttars’ right to speak. That we stand behind him as one of our colleagues and his right to serve in this state,” Waddoups said during a press conference at the time. “We think he’s a stalwart. We think he’s a Senator that represents the point of view of many of his constituents and many of ours. We agree with many of the things he said. We may disagree with some of them. We may disagree with some of the ways he said it. But we stand four-square behind his right to say what he feels he wants to say and needs to say.”
To date, Waddoups has not commented on with what parts of Buttars’ remarks Republican legislators agree and disagree.
During a May 1 interview with radio station KCPW, Waddoups expressed similar praise for Buttars.
“During the interim what we’re doing is studying issues, gathering information, rather than making policy and passing bills. We’re just studying,” he said. “Senator Buttars has a sharp mind and is experienced. I think he’ll be a benefit and a help there.”
Although the interim Judiciary, Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee only studies bills, the bills it studies can sometimes impact gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Utahns. One such bill studied during the 2008 interim session was Salt Lake City Democratic Senator Scott McCoy’s wrongful death bill. If passed this bill would allow an individual’s unmarried romantic partner (of either sex) to sue in cases of death due to negligence or medical malpractice under certain, strict guidelines.
McCoy could not be reached for comment on this story.
Will Carlson, Public Policy Manager for statewide gay rights group Equality Utah — which authored several gay rights bills during the 2009 general session — told KCPW that while Buttars had a right to his opinions, the senator’s attitude was detrimental to the legislative process.
“The legislative process depends on the ability of diverse perspectives to be able to engage in a civil dialogue and discussion, and the things that he has communicated have made it clear to people on both sides of gay and transgender equality that he is not ready to communicate that level of respectful dialogue,” said Carlson.
Buttars’ appointment on the interim committee does not necessarily mean that he will return to the standing committee in 2010.