Utah Lawmaker’s Anti-Gay Diatribe Draws Criticism

by Kilian Melloy
Friday Feb 20, 2009

Chris Buttars, an anti-gay Utah state senator who claims to have personally derailed all GLBT-friendly legislation in that state for the past eight years, has drawn heavy criticism for comments he made during an interview for a documentary about Proposition 8.

Buttars, who earlier this week drew attention for having circulated among his fellow lawmakers a statement to the effect that family equality for GLBT citizens "would threaten marriage and religious freedom," a resolution written by anti-gay organization The Marriage Law Foundation, reportedly suggested in the course of the interview with filmmaker Reed Cowan that gays have no morality.

Buttars also compared gays to Muslim terrorists, a comment similar to remarks made last year by Oklahoma state Representative Sally Kerns and, separately, recording artist Pat Boone, who compared peaceful demonstrations against Proposition 8 to terrorist attacks in Mumbai last year that left more than 170 people dead.

Cowan was interviewing Buttars for a documentary reportedly titled "8: The Mormon Proposition," according to a Feb. 19 story at the Web site for Salt Lake ABC affiliate Channel 4.

The title of the documentary refers to the perception that the Mormon church and its adherents were major players in financing and providing support to the anti-gay California amendment.

The highly controversial California measure was narrowly approved by voters last November, revoking existing marriage rights for gay and lesbian families. The measure entailed the most expensive campaign ever for a ballot initiative, and continues to roil the national debate about GLBT equality.

The Channel 4 story said reported that Buttars' comments included the remark, "Homosexuality will always be a sexual perversion. And you say that around here now and everybody goes nuts.

"But I don't care."

Buttars also reportedly commented on the morality of gay people, saying, "What is [sic] the morals of a gay person? You can't answer that, because anything goes."

Added the state senator, "[Gays are] mean. They want to talk about being nice. They're the meanest buggers I have ever seen."

Drawing a comparison between gays and Muslim terrorists, Buttars continued, "It's just like the Muslims," reported Channel 4.

"Muslims are good people and their religion is anti-war. But it's been taken over by the radical side."

As for marriage equality for gay and lesbian families, Buttars indicated that such a thing would spell doomsday.

"It's the beginning of the end," the state Senator said.

"Oh, it's worse than that," he continued.

"Sure. Sodom and Gomorrah was localized. This is worldwide."

State Sen. Buttars' comments are only the latest in a long string of similar comments, which have been ongoing since at least the anti-gay crusade undertaken by Anita Bryant in the 1970s, and which flare up periodically.

Last March, for example, Oklahoma state Rep. Sally Kern generated headlines when she told a group of Republicans that "the homosexual agenda is destroying our nation," and that gays constitute "the biggest threat that our nation has, even more so than terrorism."

Recent paid advertising has also suggested that gay and lesbian Americans are targeting the religious freedoms of Christians in their attempts to attain family equality.

One ad, which runs nearly six minutes, garnered headlines this week by depicting a heterosexual family being sited through a sniper's rifle scope, while a paid program claiming that Christians are being "silenced" by the "gay agenda" recently proved too controversial for a Michigan station to air.

Buttars may face censure from his fellow lawmakers, according to Utah news sources.

Another article posted at the Channel 4 Web site reports that the one openly gay Utah state Senator, Scott McCoy, responded to reports of Buttars' comments by saying, "Other colleagues of mine in the body have apologized on his behalf which i appreciate because they felt like they needed to do so."

The Salt Lake Tribune reported in a Feb. 19 article that Buttars' remarks may result in his being removed from the state's Senate Judiciary Committee.

The Tribune article quoted state Senate President Michael Waddoups,a fellow Republican, as saying, "I've made up my mind what I'm going to do," and though he declined to specify, other sources reportedly said that Buttars would be taken off the committee, over which he presides as Chairman.

The article also quoted Republican Sen. Greg Bell, who serves as Senate Assistant Majority Whip.

Said state Sen. Bell, "We're dealing with a very sensitive issue.

"We want to be judicious. We want those who have been offended to understand," continued Bell, "and we also want to make sure that Senator Buttars is dealt with fairly."

The Tribune reported that some observers believed that, in the end, Buttars would not be punished.

The article quoted the president of the right-wing Utah Eagle Forum, Gayle Ruzicka, who said, "It's a free speech issue."

Added Ruzicka, "I'm sure they'd defend anybody's right on that floor to say what they want to say."

Indeed, Waddoups himself had said earlier that Buttars had not broken any Senate rules and that punishing him for speaking his mind would be "inappropriate," the Tribune reported.

This is not the first time that Buttars' remarks have generated controversy; as media reports recollected, it was not even a year ago that the state Senator found himself embroiled in controversy over what some took to be racially insensitive comments.

Buttars was also punished by the loss of his Judicial Nomination Committee chairmanship by the previous Senate President, John Valentine, for using Senate letterhead to write to a judge after a friend lost a court case; Buttars' letter upbraided the judge, the Tribune reported.

However, other news sources suggested that the imbroglio might have more serious consequences: a Feb. 19 Deseret News article went so far as to speculate that Buttars might submit his resignation from the state Senate over the flap, noting that some state lawmakers have started to get feedback from their constituents that Buttars ought to step down.

That article contained a quote from state Sen. McCoy, who said, "Something has to be done," though McCoy added, "We didn't have anything particular in mind."

Meantime, the Deseret News said, local GLBT equality groups were taking the high road.

The article quoted Equality Utah's Stephanie Pappas, who said that Buttars' comments were "hurtful, demeaning and demoralizing."

Pappas added, "We're not willing to play on that level.

"If he said exactly what he said about another group of people," Pappas went on, "it would have been completely unconscionable.

"We need to educate. It doesn't matter who it's said about, it's wrong."

The article said that Pappas referenced newspaper advertisements condemning gays and lesbians and encouraging the scuttling of a failed measure in the Utah legislature, the "Common Ground initiative," which would have sought some basic rights for gay and lesbian families in that state.

The ads, taken out by anti-gay group America Forever, echoed the tactics used by Proposition 8 proponents, which told voters that unless consenting adults saw their right to marry revoked, school children as young as Kindergarten would be forced to learn about gay families.

Similarly, the ads in the Utah newspapers warned that the initiative would "validate homosexuality to the children," and went on to reiterate long-promulgated claims that granting gay and lesbian families the same, or similar, rights to those enjoyed by heterosexuals would result in gays becoming an "untouchable class" with "special rights."

Warned the advertisements, "Gays will have MORE RIGHTS than anyone else" if they should ever be treated before the law in the same manner as heterosexuals.

"This is not about hate or civil rights," read one ad's copy in large type, while another sentence next to it declared, "Homosexuality is NOT A RACE!"

Pappas viewed such extreme rhetoric as helpful to the GLBT message of inclusion, saying, "People want to distance themselves from people like Chris Buttars.

"It helps our position. Who wants to be associated with somebody like that?"

The Deseret News article said that lawmakers, though having rejected the original "Common Ground initiative," were considering a second attempt to find some "middle ground," in the words of an adviser, Ben McAdams, to Ralph Becker, the mayor of Salt Lake City.

Said McAdams, "There has been a willingness expressed to look for a middle ground, to do the right thing."

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


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