Tuesday, July 14, 2009

No smooching allowed on Mormon Main Street Plaza

Last week two gay men were arrested in the Main Street Plaza portion of Mormon Temple Square. Derek Jones and Matthew Aune were walking through the Plaza when one kissed the other on the cheek. They were then approached by security personnel asked to cease their public display of affection or to leave the premises. Apparently the Mormon Church has a policy against PDA in the area. Jones and Aune reportedly refused the request, responded with profanity, and were arrested for trespassing.

The background of the Plaza has been contentious. The Mormon Church purchased the land from the city in 2003 in a land swap deal, but the exchange was plagued by lawsuits almost from the get-go. The ACLU sued along with other parties, challenging the deal as unconstitutional because the Church could then limit speech on the property that had formerly been a public forum. The LDS Church eventually won the lawsuit and prohibited a variety of activities in the plaza, including protesting, smoking, sunbathing, and offensive conduct of any sort. The prohibition against protesting didn't stop a group on Sunday that participated in a "kiss-in, " but they were promptly shooed off the property when police arrived. No citations were issued.

As a matter of legal rights, I think the Mormon Church or any other private or religious organization is free to set whatever silly rules it wants. My only concern in this case is the issue of notice. I have visited Salt Lake City, but I don't know if any signs are posted in the area with a code of conduct. Particularly given that the Plaza was once public property, some signage seems appropriate. Nevertheless, even without signage, this restriction is probably safely on the side of legality, even though it's terrible PR. It's also worth noting that the PDA rule is apparently enforced on both heterosexual and homosexual couples, though that doesn't enter into my analysis of the policy's legality.

For a first-hand discussion of the Plaza and the enforcement of the PDA rule, I recommend Ryan's post on the subject Right Juris.

Photo credit: Edgar Zuniga, Jr.

5 comments:

  1. Silly rules? The Mormon church fundamentally believes in and advocates for the institution of traditional marriage. Barring anything on their property that does not support those beliefs or distracts from them doesn't sound silly to me? It's good policy.

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  2. Jacob, the public display of affection is largely seen as a precursor to traditional marriage, and the PDA-ban extended to all couples, not just same-sex couples. Even assuming that there are good policy reasons behind the restriction, the traditional marriage arguement doesn't hold up.

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  3. I've been to Temple Square and the Main Street Plaza countless times but I've never seen any signs that ban public displays of affection are banned. To say that a ban on heterosexual PDA exists would be a shock to me. Go there some night during December when the Christmas lights are up and you'll see plenty of snuggling and kissing going on and no one getting arrested.

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  4. If there were discriminate enforcement of a PDA ban, it still wouldn't be illegal given the private property status of the Plaza. But it would be imprudent policy.

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