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About Utah: Proportion goes poof so quickly

Corollary to Murphy's Law: If things can get blown totally out of proportion sooner or later, it will always be sooner.

Take, for instance, the gay kissing incident.

Last month a couple of gay men were asked by LDS Church security to leave the Main Street Plaza area that adjoins the LDS Temple in Salt Lake City because the men were kissing.

The church felt OK about the request because it bought and paid for the plaza, a condition it assumed under the property laws of the United States of America gives it the right to do such things as pay taxes, take care of the landscaping and kick people off for trespassing when it wants.

But the two men chose not to leave, resulting in a scuffle with security, resulting in a call to police, resulting in the two men leaving anyway.

In a world where trespassers are asked to leave private property multiple times every day, that should have been that.

This was about two men not leaving private property and, as an outgrowth of that, about the security detail, as security details will, getting heavy-handed when the men became belligerent.

It certainly wasn't about a church that has been against same-sex attraction throughout its existence — talk about old news — not being OK with two men kissing on its property.

But in the snap of a finger the issue of private property rights — as fundamentally American as it gets — was out and gay rights was in.

Protests were planned. The church was criticized. Kiss-ins were held (in public places, to add to the confusion). More kiss-ins were organized (at more public places).

Lost in the fuss was the fact that this was no gay rights protest; this was two men being rude.

This wasn't Rosa Parks refusing to give up her seat on the city bus; this was Rosa Parks refusing to give up her seat in somebody's living room.

It would be equally shocking if plaza security asked people drinking beer to leave, or coffee vendors.

It was the year's fastest distortion of a story — at least until Boston police sergeant James Crowley met black Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr.

As most of the world knows by now, Crowley arrived at Gates' residence because of a 911 call about someone forcing his way into Gates' home. That someone was Gates, who was returning from a trip and for some reason couldn't get his door key to work.

When police arrived Gates, understandably, took umbrage that he should be challenged entering his own house. Crowley, understandably, took umbrage that Gates wouldn't show him identification.

As Chicago Tribune columnist Steve Dahl succinctly put it: "A sleep-deprived black activist who has to show ID to prove he lives in his own place smacks headlong into an insulted yet well-intentioned suburban cop. It's a recipe for disaster."

But that's all it was.

This story blew out of proportion at hurricane speed, quickly transforming from a case of mistaken identity to a debate about race.

President Barack Obama fueled the race embers by calling the police tactics "stupid" before he knew all the facts — who does this man think he is, a newspaper columnist? — and then inviting Crowley and Gates to have beers with him at the White House in an attempt to iron things out that didn't need to be ironed out.

Looking back at both incidents — the Plaza kiss and the Gates fiasco — it would have been something of a miracle if either one had come out any other way than unpleasant. In each case it was the Irresistible Force meeting the Unmovable Object.

But once the dust had settled all of that should have been obvious and the small-time events should have been mercifully forgotten for what they were — instead of obeying the above-listed Murphy's Corollary and morphing into rallying cries for causes they were never ever about.

Lee Benson's column runs Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. Please send e-mail to