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Sen. Chris Buttars, a lightning rod because of his outspoken views on gay issues and conservative stands on moral issues, said he was retiring immediately after the Legislature adjourned Thursday night.
In a speech from the Senate floor delivered just before 1 a.m., Buttars said he has always stood for truth, but "there are other truths beyond the moral truths and one of them is human frailty."
Buttars, 69, has suffered from diabetes and other health problems, including undergoing heart surgery last June. His wife has also been seriously ill, and he said that, together, they decided it was time for him to step down.
"I only hope the next person who fills this chair will have a love of freedom in his or her or her blood," Buttars said.
Buttars explained how he started his political career in the 1970s when, frustrated by the lack of sidewalks in his new West Jordan neighborhood, he ran for city council.
In 2000, he ran for the Legislature and has represented the South Jordan and West Jordan district since January 2001.
His philosophy in campaigning and serving, Buttars said, was simple.
"I'm going to tell you where I stand and I don't want to know where you stand. You may not agree with me but you'll always know where I stand," Buttars said. "It served me well but I've sure been in a hell of a lot of trouble."
By reaching 10 years of service, the state will pay Buttars' Medicare premium, guaranteeing him insurance coverage in his retirement.
Buttars drew fire for his outspoken nature and blunt criticism of gay rights, but was defended as a champion of moral causes by his backers.
"I love America and I love the traditional values and the absolute moral truths that the Founding Fathers wove into the United States Constitution," Buttars said. "I believe freedom must always be defended on every front as there are people and ideologies that seek to undermine and devalue and outright destroy the Constitution."
Gayle Ruzicka, president of the Utah Eagle Forum, said Buttars stood up for what he thought was right and never worried about his next election.
"He's one of the kindest people, but he took on the hard issues and when you stand that strong for what you believe in, he's a very righteous man, so he's a target," Ruzicka said. "He just always stood strong for moral values."
In 2008, he created a stir when, while discussing a bill he didn't like, said "this baby is black, I'll tell you. It is a dark and ugly thing," a statement perceived by some as racist.
His supporters rallied to his side and had T-shirts printed supporting the senator.
A year later, he did an interview for a documentary on California's Proposition 8, referring to gays and lesbians as "the meanest buggers I have ever seen," and said they were "Probably the greatest threat to America going down I know of."
Senate President Michael Waddoups stripped him of two of his committee chairmanships as a result of breaking an agreement with the Senate caucus to not discuss the issue.
But Buttars was back in key assignments the following session and this year has spearheaded efforts to reform the education process as chairman of the education budget committee.
He also succeeded in securing permanent funding for the Drug Offender Rehabilitation Act, a diversion program to help keep drug addicts out of prison. He had been a champion of the program, which was consistently on the legislative chopping block, for years.
"One of the most incredible things he ever did is he and LaVar [Christensen] working together doing Amendment 3," said Ruzicka, referring to the constitutional amendment that banned gay marriage in Utah. "That is a legacy that will live forever."
Several of Buttars critics declined to comment on his retirement Friday morning.