The Utah Senate stopped working for about two hours Monday as Republicans privately met to discuss a lawmaker's recent comments that gay people don't have morals and that gay activists are among America's greatest threats.
Not a single bill was debated on the Senate floor Monday morning, increasing the backlog of bills that may never become law simply because lawmakers will run out of time to approve them before the 45-day session ends.
Republican Sen. Chris Buttars of West Jordan told a documentary filmmaker that gay people don't have any morals and he compared gay activists to radical Muslims, saying they're one of America's greatest threats.
Last week, Senate President Michael Waddoups removed Buttars from a judiciary committee he chaired. Buttars frequently took pride in using the chairmanship to kill gay rights legislation.
Waddoups said he wanted to remove a distraction and wasn't trying to punish Buttars for the comments. Waddoups also said that his colleagues agree with many of Buttars' statements, but has refused to say which statements.
'Intolerant and immoderate'
Sen. Greg Bell said Monday he disagrees with at least one of Buttars' comments.
"I think I could say that, to a person, everyone in our caucus supports traditional marriage. Many of us, however, feel that the tenor, the examples, some of the phrasing that Sen. Buttars used in his controversial comments, were intolerant and immoderate," Bell said. "I don't believe that all gays have no morals whatsoever."
Buttars' comments and his removal from the judiciary committee have created a rift in the Senate Republican caucus, prompting the private meeting. Senate leaders said Buttars wouldn't face any more sanctions and that no position was taken on the issue during their meeting.
"It was a venting process, in my judgment, and that's why it took the time that it took," said Sen. Pete Knudson. "I think that's a healthy part of this whole situation, is that no one is being told what to think, no one is being told how to think, but they had their opportunity to express and I think that was very, very good for our caucus."
Buttars' comments first aired last week on the Salt Lake City ABC affiliate KTVX and a copyrighted audio clip is posted on its Web site. The documentary filmmaker he spoke to, Reed Cowan, formerly worked at KTVX and is now a reporter at WSVN in Miami.