And one of those occasions arose on February 20th, 2009. In response to the continuing eruption of public opinion about District 10 Senator Chris Buttars' remarks about homosexuality to the openly-gay documentary filmmaker Reed Cowan, previously discussed HERE and HERE, Utah Senate President Mike Waddoups announced that he had decided to release Senator Buttars from his position as Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman. The Salt Lake Tribune had correctly forecast this development on the previous night. Media stories presented by the Associated Press, the Deseret News, the Salt Lake Tribune, KTVX Channel 4, and KSL Channel 5 (over 800 comments in the first two hours after the story was posted). Additional reaction posted on the Salt Lake Crawler.
A podcast of Senator Waddoups' press conference is accessible HERE. Thanks to ChinoBlanco, I've also found a YouTube video of the eight-minute press conference, in addition to a KSL news video; both embedded below:
KSL news video:
The action is more than symbolic, since the Judiciary Committee is where gay-rights bills are normally heard. Later on, Senator Waddoups also disclosed that Buttars has also been released from his position as chairman of the Senate Judicial Confirmation Commission, which decides whether to recommend the full Senate consent to judicial appointments by Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., although he does remain on the powerful Senate Rules Committee.
However, Senator Waddoups' subsequent remarks during the press conference seemed somewhat convoluted. He stressed that Buttars continues to have the support of his Senate colleagues. "This frees Senator Buttars to feel more at ease in saying how he personally feels," the Senate president said, calling Buttars a "stalwart" whose views — or at least some of them — are shared by many senators. Resignation was never on the table, however.
Reaction from other lawmakers was mixed. Senate Democrats said they would push for new legislation this session to mandate cultural and diversity training for both House and Senate members, although none of them accused Buttars of uttering "hate speech". But openly-gay Rep. Christine Johnson (D-Salt Lake) believes that Buttars should have been removed from the Rules committee as well.
Other Republican reaction was a bit more charitable. House Majority Leader Kevin Garn (R-Layton) characterized Senator Buttars as a good man who finds it difficult to control what he says. He considers Buttars' removal from committee positions a reminder of the continuing need for decorum by elected officials.
But of greater concern is the reaction of Rep. Steve Mascaro (R-West Jordan), whose House district is part of Senate District 10. Mascaro, who lives just a few blocks from Buttars, said, "I've know him for 20 years. Something has happened to Chris in the last few years. I worry about his physical health — and I don't know if (health problems) have affected how he sees things. He is functioning differently. He has always been up front, even confrontational on the issues he feels strongly about. But these latest comments — there is a caustic level to them I haven't seen before. I worry about all that is happening, how it is impacting his health, his family. There can be great pressures up here. And as important as our work is, it isn't worth destroying your health". There have been unsubstantiated reports that Senator Buttars may be suffering from diabetes.
Surprisingly, former Salt Lake Mayor Rocky Anderson does not call for Buttars' resignation, because he thinks Buttars' open "bigotry" will galvanize the gay community and keep them focused. He also believes his constituents are the only people who should determine Buttars' political future.
For his part, Senator Buttars has accepted the judgment of his peers professionally, but is absolutely unapologetic for his attitude, and, according to a statement posted on the Senate Site blog, intends to continue staunchly defending traditional American cultural values, to include traditional marriage. The full statement is cross-posted below:
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.
The public is almost evenly split, with Buttars' opponents slightly outnumbering his supporters. But his supporters, although some still criticize his syntax, are defending him with renewed fervour. Stephen Graham with the group Standard of Liberty told KSL Newsradio he agrees with Buttars. And Utah Eagle Forum President Gayle Ruzicka actually characterized Waddoups' action as a victory for free speech. "It would have been a chilling effect if he were censured for what he said, on all lawmakers," Ruzicka said. She and others are wearing his campaign button around the capitol. "We just thought it would be a good day to say we support Chris Buttars and his right to free speech," she concluded.
Analysis: This is where we separate the personal from the political. Personally, Chris Buttars deserved no sanction. Politically, something had to be done; Senate Democrats were threatening a public censure, and even some Republicans were a bit restive. Removing Senator Buttars from the Judiciary Committee, where gay rights bills first go, sends a message to the gay community that they will at least get a fair hearing. Everyone deserves that, regardless of politics. No political philosophy should ever be considered off limits for discussion. The risk that someone might act unlawfully on the basis of someone else's speech is a risk we must accept for freedom to survive.