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Senate leaders disciplined Sen. Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan, not for anti-gay comments he made in a recent interview, but because he violated a deal with leadership that he not talk about gay issues, a senator said Saturday.
"Most of what Senator Buttars said, I agree with," Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, said in a weekly Red Meat Radio program he hosts on K-TALK. "We as a Senate caucus had an agreement that because Sen. Buttars had become such a lightning rod on this issue, he would not be the spokesman on this issue, and basically he violated that agreement."
Buttars was under fire for statements he made to a documentary filmmaker in which he compared homosexuals to radical Muslims, called them the greatest internal threat to America and said they had no morals.
Senate President Michael Waddoups, R-Taylorsville, announced Friday that he was removing Buttars from two committees: the Senate Judiciary, Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee and the Senate Judicial Confirmation Committee, both of which Buttars had chaired.
In making the announcement, Waddoups said he was trying to ensure the Senate runs smoothly, but also noted that "we agree with many of the things he said. We stand four-square behind his right [to say what he wants]."
At no time did Waddoups mention that Buttars had actually been told he could not speak on gay and lesbian issues. But it was the breach of that directive that led to the reprimand, according to Stephenson.
"It happened, not because he said a lot of things wrong, but because he decided to be the spokesman again," Stephenson said.
Mike Thompson, director of Equality Utah, was dissatisfied with Waddoups' action in the first place. He said the Senate president hadn't acknowledged that Buttars had failed to give the Common Ground Initiative bills, which sought protections for gay and lesbian rights, fair consideration, even though polls show they were supported by a majority of Utahns.
"It's disappointing that there basically is no action or punishment for Buttars compromising the legislative process. His punishment is for not living up to his commitment to the caucus," Thompson said. "His commitment should be to the people in his district, including his gay and transgender constituents, that he is going to participate fairly in the legislative process."
Senate Republicans, including Buttars, reached an agreement at a day-long caucus Dec. 13 that Buttars should not comment on gay issues because he was such a polarizing figure. The agreement included a prohibition on speaking to the Common Ground bills.
But Buttars didn't stay on the sidelines for long. Just a month later, he sat down with documentary filmmaker Reed Cowan for the hour-long interview for a project on California's Proposition 8 against gay marriage, in which Buttars made the inflammatory statements.
A defiant Buttars objected to Waddoups' decision, but said he would not be deterred from opposing rights for gays and said he would not apologize for any of his comments. He did not answer his cell phone today and his voice mailbox was full.
"I think the bulk of people in Utah agree with 90 percent of what he said," Sen. Dennis Stowell, R-Parowan, said on Stephenson's radio show.
Neither Waddoups nor Stephenson returned phone messages Saturday.
Stephenson said he disagreed with one of Buttars' points: that Buttars had single-handedly killed gay-rights legislation. Stephenson said defeating the legislation was a cooperative effort.
Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. said in an interview Saturday that it is time to move beyond the latest Buttars flap.
"I think we've talked enough about Sen. Buttars," he said. "We need to get on to finishing the legislative session. We've only got a couple weeks left."
Tribune reporter Thomas Burr contributed to this report