Protesters smooch near LDS Temple
Wearing bright red lipstick, Isabelle Warnas smiled and planted a big kiss on her husband's cheek, something she said she has done often under the spires of the LDS Church's Salt Lake Temple.
"Nobody has said a thing to us," the 50-year-old Salt Lake City resident said.
This time, though, they had an audience of more than a hundred. They were gathered for a "kiss-in" staged Sunday morning near Main Street Plaza to show support for a gay couple, Derek Jones, 25, and Matthew Aune, 28, who say they were detained by Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints security guards after one man had kissed the other on the cheek Thursday. They had argued with the guards and were later cited for trespassing.
"My husband and I cannot understand the discrimination," Warnas said. "This is not right."
The atmosphere Sunday morning was genial, and even merry among protesters. Organizer and former city councilwoman Deeda Seed encouraged "gentle" displays of public affection, and participants stuck to short kisses on the mouth and cheeks.
Several LDS Church security guards dressed in suits kept a watchful eye, and turned some protesters back when they tried to cross the church-owned plaza or walk onto the property to share a kiss.
Guards called police when protesters staged a walk onto the plaza, and officers stood to block the entrance.
"They were asked repeatedly not to come onto the property, and they chose to do so anyway," said LDS church spokeswoman Kim Farah. Though a few people spoke in protest, there were no direct confrontations, and guards did not stop the protesters gathered past the property line.
In a prepared statement, Farah said the church welcomes the millions of visitors who come to its headquarters each year.
"We are glad they come ... . We do ask that certain guidelines be kept on church property, including that no demonstrations are allowed here," she said.
The incident became a flash point for overlapping controversies: Anger over church support of Proposition 8, which outlawed gay marriage in California, and still-simmering frustration over the city's sale of Main Street Plaza to the church about 10 years ago.
"A lot of people feel disrespected, feel less than fully human because of church policies toward gay and lesbian people, and that's got to stop," said Salt Lake City Councilman Luke Garrott, who represents the downtown district. The sale allowed the church to ban objectionable activities, from protesting to sunbathing, on the plaza, which borders Temple Square and church headquarters.
Jones and Aune attended the event with their two dogs. The couple stayed quietly in the background.
"I just want to get the message out," Jones said. "We're very flattered and very proud."
"This community is a great one," Aune said.