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Couples pucker up to make positive point

'Kiss-in' held near Temple Square to protest incident

Published: Wednesday, July 1 2015 7:50 a.m. MDT

Frank Armstrong, left, Daniel Lara, former Salt Lake Councilwoman Deeda Seed and Laura Bradford take part in Frank Armstrong, left, Daniel Lara, former Salt Lake Councilwoman Deeda Seed and Laura Bradford take part in "kiss-in'' Sunday near Main Street Plaza. (Brendan Sullivan, Deseret News)

A "kiss-in" drew about 60 people sporting pink paper hearts to the sidewalk just off of LDS Church property near Temple Square on Sunday to protest actions taken by the church's security personnel late last week.

Dozens of gay and straight couples smooched, posed for photos and talked with reporters while church security issued a few reminders to stay on the sidewalks.

But, as the gathering was beginning to disperse, about 35 protesters crossed onto church property and walked around the reflecting pond, eliciting a call to police by church representatives.

Kim Farah, spokeswoman for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, issued a statement about Sunday's action.

"Church security asked the demonstrators repeatedly not to come onto the plaza to demonstrate," Farah said. "Though the requests were issued calmly and respectfully, demonstrators ignored the requests, and the police were phoned."

A A "kiss-in" drew about 60 people sporting pink paper hearts to the sidewalks just off of LDS Church property near Main Street and South Temple Sunday morning. (Brendan Sullivan, Deseret News)

Salt Lake Police Lt. Lamar Ewell said he and another officer responding to the call asked those involved to move off of church property and explained that the plaza and walkway through the plaza were private property. Ewell said demonstrators complied with directives from police, and no citations were issued.

Former Salt Lake City Councilwoman Deeda Seed launched the idea from her Facebook page after two gay men, Derek Jones and Matthew Aune, were asked to leave the church-owned pedestrian walkway between North Temple and South Temple Thursday because of "inappropriate behavior." The men said they had been holding hands and kissed. Church officials called police, who cited the men for trespassing, after they became argumentative, used profanity and refused to leave the private property, said Farah.

Seed called the actions "heavy-handed" and invited people to meet downtown Sunday morning near Main Street and South Temple to "engage in gentle, tasteful displays of public affection." Friends and couples did just that at the feet of a statue of Brigham Young near the entrance to the plaza just after 9 a.m.

Married couple Topher and Annie Mehlhoff with a church security guard. A Married couple Topher and Annie Mehlhoff with a church security guard. A "kiss-in" drew about 60 people sporting pink paper hearts to the sidewalks just off of LDS Church property near Main Street and South Temple Sunday morning. (Brendan Sullivan, Deseret News)

Seed said the idea behind the gathering was to illustrate the innocence of a simple display of affection, no matter where it occurs.

"We're giving a visual demonstration of the power of love," Seed said. "And saying that it should be OK for people to show affections regardless of their sexual orientation or age."

Salt Lake City Councilman Luke Garrott attended the event but was less pragmatic than Seed in his evaluation of the incident that sparked the demonstration.

"It's another instance of indignity being visited on gays and lesbians," Garrott said. "I knew this couple personally, they're friends of mine, so it hits close to home."

Garrott said the way church security officers handled the situation with Jones and Aune reflected a pattern of intolerance.

Brian Penman, and his partner Garrett Fistere kiss as do Tracie Morrison and Kelly Kightly at the Main Street Plaza. A Brian Penman, and his partner Garrett Fistere kiss as do Tracie Morrison and Kelly Kightly at the Main Street Plaza. A "kiss-in" drew about 60 people sporting pink paper hearts to the sidewalks just off of LDS Church property near Main Street and South Temple Sunday morning. (Brendan Sullivan, Deseret News)

"The big picture seems still to be lost on the church leadership," Garrott said. "The church is coming across not as defending traditional marriage but as being cruel to gay and lesbian couples. … I represent downtown Salt Lake City, and it's unacceptable to me."

West Jordan couple Eric and Leia Jones attended the protest Sunday and said they were motivated, in part, by the rhetoric they read in comments posted on local newspaper sites reporting on the Thursday incident.

"Some people's words and comments were pretty awful," Eric Jones said. "We came down to be part of something more positive."

e-mail: araymond@desnews.com

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