Fair warning

Kissing on the LDS Church's plaza
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2009, and information in the article may be outdated.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.

If you have followed the tortuous history of the LDS Church's Main Street Plaza, you know that it is private property. The church bought the former street from the city in 1999 for $8.1 million. You also know that the former public pedestrian easement across the plaza no longer exists. The city traded that in 2003 for real estate and donations to expand the Sorenson Multicultural Center. The federal courts have waded through the constitutional issues and given their blessing to these transactions.

As with any other private property owner, the LDS Church has the right to make the rules, within the law, for what happens on the plaza. Visitors to the property should respect those rules, just as they would when visiting someone else's home or business. And if a visitor breaks those rules, the property owner can rightfully ask him to leave.

From the beginning, the church has invited visitors onto the plaza. The splendid surroundings are a missionary tool and a beautiful place for people to view the Salt Lake Temple, the nearby reflecting pool and the lovely gardens. The open design of the place advertises that the public is welcome. However, a reasonable person would assume that certain behavior is not welcome: demonstrations or preaching against the LDS Church, swearing or obscene gestures come to mind. In addition, signs ask people not to smoke or ride bicycles, skateboards or roller skates.

But the signs say nothing about kissing. Mormon couples celebrating their wedding vows, or visitors just enjoying the ambience, kiss each other all the time. A reasonable person would not assume that the property owner would find kissing to be offensive or ban it on the plaza.

Unless, apparently, the couple is gay. As everyone knows by now, a gay couple who kissed on the plaza one night earlier this month was asked to leave, and when they talked back, were forcibly detained until police arrived. The two men were cited for trespass.

Church officials say the offending behavior was more than a simple kiss, that it was "passionate kissing, groping, profane and lewd language" and that the men had been drinking alcohol. The couple say that some of that is an exaggeration.

We don't know where the truth lies, but we agree with the city prosecutor's decision to dismiss the trespass charge. Unless a reasonable person knows what is likely to offend the property owner, we don't see how he can reasonably be held accountable for giving offense.

The LDS Church's hostility to gay marriage is well known. But if the church is going to evict gay couples from its plaza for kissing, it should give them fair warning.