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Trespassing case? Gay couple detained after kiss near LDS temple

Published July 10, 2009 6:59 pm

Plaza walkway is church property.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2009, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

A gay couple says they were detained by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints security guards after one man kissed another on the cheek Thursday on Main Street Plaza.

"They targeted us," said Matt Aune, 28. "We weren't doing anything inappropriate or illegal, or anything most people would consider inappropriate for any other couple."

Aune and his partner, Derek Jones, 25, were cited by Salt Lake City police for trespassing on the plaza, located at 50 East North Temple, according to Sgt. Robin Snyder.

In a written statement, church spokeswoman Kim Farah denied the two were singled out for being gay.

The church contends the couple was "asked to stop engaging in inappropriate behavior just as any other couple would have been. They became argumentative and used profanity and refused to leave the property. They were arrested and then given a citation for criminal trespass by SLPD."

Though Salt Lake City sold the property to the church in the late 1990s, it remains a popular pedestrian thoroughfare, and a site where couples often pose affectionately for photos.

The Salt Lake Police Department on Friday denied a Salt Lake Tribune request for a full police report on the incident, citing Utah laws giving them five business days to respond to records requests.

Snyder refused to name the reason security guards gave for alerting police, saying it is "irrelevant."

"If a person is asked to leave private property for whatever reason and refuses to do so, that is technically trespassing," she said.

Aune said the incident started when he and Jones were walking back to their Salt Lake City home from a Twilight Concert Series show at the Gallivan Center. The couple live just blocks away from the plaza in the Marmalade district of the Capitol Hill neighborhood.

The pair crossed the plaza holding hands, Aune said. About 20 feet from the edge of the plaza, Aune said he stopped, put his arm on Jones' back and kissed him on the cheek.

Several security guards then arrived and asked the pair to leave, saying that public displays of affection are not allowed on the church property, Aune and Jones said. They protested, saying they often see other couples holding hands and kissing there, said Jones.

"We were kind of standing up for ourselves," Jones said. "It was obviously because we were gay."

The guards put Jones on the ground and handcuffed him, he said. Aune said he was also cuffed roughly, and suffered bruises and a swollen wrist. The injuries did not require medical treatment, Snyder said.

Farah said the two men "became argumentative," refused to leave, and used profanity.

Aune said he felt "upset" and "affronted" during the approximately five-minute exchange.

"When I was handcuffed, I was very pissed and I unleashed a flurry of profanities," he said.

Police arrived about 10:30 p.m. They spoke with the couple and two security guards before issuing the citations, Snyder said. The pair was banned from LDS Church Headquarters' campus for six months, Farah confirmed. That does not include the City Creek or any other properties.

The kiss happened on a former public easement given up by city in 2003 in a controversial land-swap deal. The easement became private property, allowing the church to ban protesting, smoking, sunbathing and other "offensive, indecent, obscene, lewd or disorderly speech, dress or conduct," church officials said at the time. In exchange, the city got church property for a west-side community center.

Aune said he was one of those who protested the transfer at the time.

"They claimed in 2003 this would never happen, they were never going to arrest anyone," he said. "It's clear now they do have an agenda."