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.