Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Hardline Social Conservative Utah State Senator Chris Buttars Endorses Salt Lake's Nondiscrimination Ordinances, May Sponsor Statewide Legislation

The influence of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Utah is still quite strong. One week after the LDS Church spoke out in favor of Salt Lake City's two new nondiscrimination ordinances, a very unlikely source has also spoken out in favor of them.

State Senator Chris Buttars (R-West Jordan). But his support is limited to housing and employment protection alone.

KSL Channel 5, the Salt Lake Tribune, and KSTU Channel 13 reported that the noted hardline pro-family conservative senator spoke out in favor of the ordinances on November 18th, saying "An individual should be able to have a roof over their head and have a job and not worry about being fired for their sexual choices. I support that, but that's all I support. Maybe we ought to have a statewide bill that allows those things, [but] I don't support any legislative creep. There's talk up here about going after other things; I will be opposed to that". Buttars also admitted that the LDS announcement had some effect upon his attitude. Watch KSL news video embedded below:

Video Courtesy of KSL.com



This means that Buttars will continue to oppose gay adoptions, civil unions and--in spite of current Utah law already prohibiting it--gay marriage. This stance basically reflects the most current position of the LDS Church, of which he's a member. Nevertheless, even this partial concession will be good news for openly-gay State Rep. Christine Johnson (D-Salt Lake), who, for the third time, plans to introduce a bill during the 2010 session that would extend fair employment protections to gay and transgender people statewide.

The Deseret News got a slightly different impression of Senator Buttars' statewide intentions. They're reporting that Buttars will not sponsor legislation to extend the city's housing and employment protections for gay and lesbian residents to all Utahns even though he agrees with the LDS Church's support for the ordinances. But in the end, they quoted Buttars as saying he "doesn't want other governments going in a different direction" and extending additional rights to gay residents. That may mean sponsoring legislation putting a halt to additional measures at the local level".

This would mean a state law NOT for the purposes of extending gay nondiscrimination statewide, but instead to set limits on how much protection any city or county within the state could extend to gays.

Will Carlson, Equality Utah's public-policy manager, said it's unclear what a Buttars bill, which would prevent local governments from going further than Salt Lake City, would do. Still, Carlson was pleased to hear of Buttars' softened stand. "It shows even the most hostile person can become an ally once they understand the issues a little better."

But longtime Buttars political ally Gayle Ruzicka, who heads up Eagle Forum Utah, was surprised and disappointed by Buttars' stance. She expressed disbelief at the notion that her longtime ally would run a bill authorizing other cities to pass ordinances that ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, chalking it up as a misunderstanding. "That doesn't make a bit of sense," she said. Cities and counties, she added, already can pass such ordinances; Salt Lake City did just that. But although Ruzicka would prefer for the legislature to overturn Salt Lake City's ordinances and forbid other local governments from passing such measures, in the end she conceded that a bill that would prevent cities and counties from going further than that would be good.

On November 15th, the Deseret News reported that the Utah Log Cabin Republicans have secured several unidentified GOP legislative sponsors for a pair of gay-rights bills in 2010. But the Log Cabin Republicans not only want to provide employment protections for gays and lesbians, but also want to amend the state's adoption rules, allowing family members who are cohabitating with a partner to adopt relatives. The latter has no chance of passing and is unworthy of support. Under no circumstances will Buttars support gay adoption.

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