11 July 2009

Temple Square Smackdown on the Kissy Kissy

Uh-oh, it looks like the Church's PR department has a mini-nightmare to deal with. I'm not talking about the seminary principal who was arrested earlier this week on charges of sexual relations with a 16-year-old girl. That's just some dude being a disgusting predator, and I would guess he has no such known history, or he wouldn't be in that position, though I don't know. But the newest incident is a little closer to home: right between the Salt Lake Temple and the Church Office Building, on the Main Street Plaza area of the complex. A gay couple was asked to leave the grounds of church headquarters after a security guard observed them hugging and kissing there, which was deemed inappropriate conduct. The story has been posted by various news organizations, including The Salt Lake Tribune, The Daily Herald, ABC 4, KSL, Deseret News, and The Huffington Post, among others, including a personal account.

I'm often interested in or even entertained by the ways different news organizations choose to report incidents like this and the different tidbits of information you get from them.

ABC4 reports:
"They say they were assaulted when LDS Church security told them to leave, but they refused and asked why.

So what transpired after these innocent lovers quietly and respectfully asked why? It's awful:
“The next thing we know, I'm being forced onto the ground on my stomach, my face is on the pavement, they handcuffed me and they grab Matt and try to get him into handcuffs," says Jones.

Tried. So what you're saying is...there was enough resistance on their part to make it a challenge for security guards to get handcuffs on them? Interesting.

KSL quotes a blog written by Derek, one of the men, regarding Matt, the other:
Matt then tried to get them to admit they were singling us out because they just didn't approve of ‘gay' public displays of affection, baiting them into revealing their bigotry."

OK, so let's sort out a couple of things here:

1. These men walked onto private property owned by a church whose stance on homosexual relations is clearly known to the world.

2. They hugged and kissed. It's unclear to me, at least, whether it was, as a few sources have reported, just a kiss on the cheek, and I doubt the security guard or the church is about to get into a debate over what kind of kiss it was. In a way, it doesn't matter, except regarding the church spokesperson's statement (more on that in a moment).

3. When asked to leave the private property they entered and knowingly disrespected (not in doing something inherently bad but in doing something they knew was not condoned by the church and was against its political and moral position), they did not leave the private premises but demanded a reason not because they were clueless but because they wanted to prove a point.

4. When they refused to leave because of some sense of righteous indignation, the only option was to remove them by force, and they even resisted that.

5. The police became involved not because they hugged and kissed each other but because they violated the standards of a private property and refused to leave when asked, making them trespassers by law, regardless of why they were asked to leave.

That said, I could understand the possibility that they were unlucky enough to butt heads with a particularly homophobic and bullheaded security guard who was only too eager to employ physical force against some repugnant sexual deviants defiling sacred ground. It's a possibility that should be investigated by the church, in my opinion, but assuming the story is accurately portrayed by piecing together the various reports, I'm inclined to think that's less likely than the possibility that you had two guys knowingly ruffling feathers, becoming belligerent and refusing to comply when an unamused guard told them to leave, probably in blunt terms. Just my hunch.

Still, I won't go so far as to say they planned the whole thing, but I will not cry over these poor, victimized souls who were beaten down by the man. They knew what they were doing. I think they should stand up and own their disobedience rather than whining like a couple of pansies. But that wouldn't bode well for their "woe is me, I'm an oppressed homosexual" persona to garner sympathy from the public, would it?

In my opinion, if the church wishes to dismiss people from their private grounds for wearing the wrong shade of blue, that's their right. And they should expect backlash. But whether or not you think a homo kiss is the same as a hetero kiss, the church has a right to say it's not and to enforce such policies. The problem, as I see it, is in the church statement that they were "asked to stop engaging in inappropriate behavior just as any other couple would have been." Really? Doesn't that make it sound like any other couple doing what they were doing would be asked to leave? I'm pretty sure I've personally observed hetero couples kissing on the lips for wedding photos right in front of the Church Office Building. I think we all know the notion that heterosexual couples would be asked to leave for hugging and kissing on the cheek, or briefly on the lips, is hooey, so I suppose the way to make a truth of that statement is to interpret it a bit differently: they were asked to cease inappropriate conduct (which for same-sex couples includes hugging, kissing, or holding hands) just like any other couple would be asked to cease inappropriate conduct (which for opposite-sex couples does not include those things). And that's their prerogative to define "inappropriate" behavior however they want on their private property, just as you and I do in our homes.

...or the church spokespeople just didn't have all the facts and assumed this couple really was doing something lewd beyond a simple, quick kiss. Perhaps? Nah, probably not.

So the issue really has less to do with whether they should have been dismissed than whether you agree with the church's stance on homosexual or homoromantic conduct or believe it to be hypocritical or unreasonable.

Although this does beg a question, assuming it was only a hug and kiss on the cheek: would I be able to give a friend a hug and a kiss on the cheek, with no romantic meaning, without being kicked off of church grounds, just because it might appear to be a homosexual act? Somehow, methinks the hug and kiss was more than an affectionate squeeze and quick cheek-peck to elicit the response it did, but who knows? I wasn't there. Meh, I'll wonder about it the next time I feel inclined to give a friend a non-romantic kiss on the cheek on temple square.

Note: In protest of the church security team's decision to dismiss the men from the premises and detaining them when they refused, a "Kiss-In" has even been organized for tomorrow (Sunday) morning. Judging from the Facebook confirmed attendees thus far, it may be a very small showing, but I'm intrigued enough to consider maybe jetting up there with my camera to capture the moment. Hm...I think I'm becoming a wannabe photographic journalist (and no, not just for gay stuff, though that's all I post here on this blog about all things moho).


El Genio said...

The one thing that really makes me leery about the church's side of this argument is the fact that it all took place around 10:00 pm at night. It's one thing to try and make a scene during all the weddings and quiet contemplation that are going on during the day, but I can't see walking through the plaza and kissing at night really causing any problems.

Abelard Enigma said...

It's hard to formulate an opinion on this since we don't have all the facts - and probably never will. And, I agree that the gay couple are not innocent victims.

But, I do believe the LDS church made a major strategic error in how they handled this. If they had just given a more wishy washy response, like they will be looking into the matter, then this would probably all just blow over. Instead, they blatantly supported the actions of the security guards without hesitation. And look what it got them - the "inappropriate actions" will be returned upon them seventy time seven fold. Not just in this "Kiss-in" scheduled for tomorrow - but I imagine every gay couple who happens to wander onto the plaza over the next few weeks/months will be strongly tempted to show their affection in some way.

You say the church, as a private organization, has the right to set whatever rules they wish, however unreasonable we may think they are - but isn't this OUR church, funded by OUR tithing dollars? Aren't we, in effect, shareholders?

If this were a private business in which I had invested stock - and this is how they handled the situation - I would be an unhappy shareholder strongly considering moving my investments elsewhere.

It almost seems like the church wants to have confrontations like this - so they can portray themselves as the persecuted victims of the evil gays.

Looking forward to seeing pictures. If I lived in the area - I'd certainly be there with my camera - could be fun.

Original Mohomie said...

El Genio, I was in temple square from about 10:20-10:40 last night, and there were several other people there in the plaza, including a couple of families. But the firsthand account does claim they saw no other people, so your comment probably applies to this incident.

Yet I have to say, time of day aside, the church still has every right. Whether the guards should have just overlooked it and not enforced the rules is another question. I can imagine they get annoyed by people who try to pull crap off and claiming they were "just passing through" and it "shouldn't be a big deal" (I know I heard more than a couple of people proclaim their intent to do just that for the sake of protest when the plaza was first opened as a privately owned area after being bought back from the city), but whether that justifies plummeting the church into another potential PR nightmare or whether the PR is worth enforcing standing rules...not my call, and as Abelard says, we don't have all the facts.

Let's just say I can understand being bothered that it wasn't just let go, but I don't see these guys as heroes or martyrs by any stretch of the imagination.

Abelard, I appreciate your comments. I don't, however, think the church is or ever has been comparable to a corporation made up of shareholders, so I don't really have a response to that. Perhaps some members of the church who pay tithing and drink alcohol against church policy might like to see alcohol possession and consumption allowed on the plaza, too, but the church as an institution has its specific boundaries and policies--lines it has drawn--and humans to call the shots on how to maintain those, despite and allowing for human error or even some dissent from certain subsets of its membership.

And if it's true that same-sex romantic physical affection is an abominable expression of affection and contrary to God's plan (no matter how big an "if" you or I may believe that to be), it is probably also disruptive to the Spirit of gospel truth, harmony, and peace that is supposed to exist on the church complex, not to mention dashing the expectation from parents that of all places in the world, this should be one where they won't be unexpectedly forced to have the "gay" talk with their children, forced by a couple of guys who refused to wait another 50 yards before getting all mushy.
You can get all over the guards and lambaste them for how easily this whole mess might have been avoided or how they should have been nicer about it or let it go entirely, but you can't free the guys who were too eager to wait 60 seconds from their responsibility, too.

Assuming, for a moment, the guys didn't have any idea they were ruffling feathers, and assuming a hug and kiss meant a love squeeze and a peck on the cheek, I would agree: the guards should have kept an eye on them and said something only if it were repeated or prolonged.

But I doubt the guys' credibility for a couple of reasons, including:

1. "...next thing we knew..." -- really? When talking to a reporter, you're gonna cut out the whole part about mouthing off and refusing to comply and resisting detainment? Uh-huh.

2. The blogger friend of theirs who posted their story said one of the guys posted his status on Facebook, saying they were just "holding hands". But then the later personal account admits to a hug and kiss, which indicates someone has a tendency to downplay his own role until called out. Most people are tempted to do that, including institutions like the church, but in this case, I see direct evidence against the guys from their own words. That's incriminating.

The Faithful Dissident said...

Great post, couldn't agree more. I think both parties shot themselves in the foot: the gay couple by their belligerent attitude and the Church for its ridiculous statement/definition of "inappropriate behavior." I really have no sympathy for either in this case.

I'm kind of glad that this happened, though, as I think there needs to be more dialogue among members about what really is acceptable displays of affection outside of marriage and whether upholding the Law of Chastity really requires the current double-standard of what's OK and not OK, all depending on whether one is gay or straight.

I did a post about this question recently. I think it's an important issue that is often forgotten in the drama of the whole gay marriage issue.

alex dumas said...

"You say the church, as a private organization, has the right to set whatever rules they wish, however unreasonable we may think they are - but isn't this OUR church, funded by OUR tithing dollars? Aren't we, in effect, shareholders?"

No. It is the Lord's church. His rules. We agree to pay tithing, not because it gives us any rights, but because we want to be obedient.

Just saying.

blj1224 said...

O-Mo and Alex are right. The Church has a right to establish standards of behavior on its property, and members don’t have a right to dictate matters of doctrine because they pay tithing or for any other reason. The Church was established, and the Gospel was restored, by revelation . . . God’s plan, not ours.

I understand why some members might like to see the church soften its stand on homosexuality. Many of us have friends and loved ones who are gay, and they are without doubt some of the best people we’ve ever known. In its defense, the church has measurably softened its position on the ability of gay members to serve missions and hold callings; there seems to be a better understanding and acceptance of the nature of homosexuality; and I’ve really appreciated the church’s desire to reach out to and keep gay members in the church. We certainly shouldn’t label the church or its leaders as homophobic.

God is perfect, but man isn’t. The actions of the security guard and police may have been unreasonable. I can’t judge without a lot more information that isn’t available. However, temple personnel are obligated to uphold/maintain the standards of behavior expected of people visiting the Temple. The two men might feel pretty smug about their ability to shed a negative light on the church, but that kind of behavior ultimately damages the attitudes of many toward SGA LDS members and the homosexual community. Rather than supporting their efforts, everyone, gay and straight, should renounce them.

EJ said...

I've kissed and hugged my guy friends on those same grounds, and nothing happened besides maybe a few raised eyebrows. Thank goodness, 'cause I may have enjoyed getting arrested a little too much ;)

Abelard Enigma said...

The Church has a right to establish standards of behavior on its property, and members don’t have a right to dictate matters of doctrine because they pay tithing

I totally agree on your second point. However, we are not talking about a point of doctrine - we are talking about a matter of policy and the actions of a security guard. I sincerely doubt God told the security guard to confront the gay couple.

What I don't get is that members of the church complain about church policies all the time and nobody gets upset. For example, I don't think I've ever heard anybody say anything nice about the church building/facilities department - and I'm referring to comments made by stake presidents and bishops. In fact, it's kind of a standing joke that the church is still true in spite of the church building department. However, when one of those policies touches upon homosexuality then people start getting all holy. I just don't get it.

blj1224 said...

Point taken. However, I believe "in your face" behavior is objectionable regardless of the situation. For instance, I wouldn't enter the grounds of a church of another denomination and pass out literature antagonistic toward that church, no matter how wrong I believed its doctrine to be. If I showed such calloused disrespect for the beliefs and feelings of others, especially on their turf, I'd expect some sort of negative reaction and wouldn't have a right to cry fowl because they were unkind to me.

Further, we're not talking about objectionable policies of a church department which are not intended to offend but sometimes do. We're talking about two young men whose behavior was intented to incite a negative reaction. Whether their expression of affection should be deemed inappropriate may be debated, but that kind of in-your-face approach does more harm than good for the image of the gay community, and it damages progress.

Before becoming antagonistically aggressive in the pursuit of change, put yourself in the shoes of those with the opposing viewpoint. Understand their beliefs, their feelings, their motivations. Seldom will you find that your opponents are bad people with intent to do harm. Until you're able to debate in favor of their viewpoint, you won't be able to find common ground, and you'll make little if any progress toward change. It will simply become a war.

Abelard Enigma said...

I don't defend the actions of the gay couple. I believe that mistakes were made by all involved - including the church security department. Just because it's a department of the LDS church does not absolve it of social responsibility.

Original Mohomie said...

Speaking of motives, I could understand getting excited in a moment and caught up in the beauty of temple square and wanting to kiss someone, male or female, without it being about being in anyone's face. In fact, I remember having to hold back from just such a moment, wanting to embrace and kiss someone among all that beauty. Certainly I considered the context and refrained, partially because there were so many people around and partially because of the location itself. Anyone can hold back, considering such context, but not everyone is practiced at making such considerations.

I guess I can understand having a lapse in judgement or not understanding why it should be a big deal. But to argue what the head of a household should or should not allow you to do is...well, rude. It's overstepping your bounds as a guest, regardless of the fairness of the policy.

I think the incident is spurring people trying to figure out if it really is a big deal, and hopefully some clarity will come of it, but that's not likely if it does, in fact, just become a war.