A boisterous crowd of 250 gay rights activists descended Saturday on the Westfield Galleria in Roseville, after a gay couple was reportedly ejected from the mall for kissing.
"It won't be over until we're all equal," event organizer Beverly Kearney told the group. "This truly is the civil rights movement of our generation."
Daniel Chesmore and Jose Guzman said they were told by a security guard to leave March 2 after they were kissing and holding hands inside the mall, according to media reports.
After news of the incident went viral, activists announced they would stage a "kiss-in" at the mall to protest the incident.
Westfield, the Galleria's owner, apologized for the incident early Tuesday and said it would "embrace" the kiss-in.
But late Tuesday, the company issued a strong statement defending the security guard's actions.
The mall called the couple's conduct "sexually explicit" and a violation of its code of conduct. Management denied that the couple had been told to leave, adding that the same standard was upheld for all customers, regardless of sexual orientation.
On Friday, management released a third statement, noting that it was "exploring new and constructive ways to partner with leading, local LGBT organizations."
Earlier in the week, mall representatives met with local gay leaders to discuss the incident.
"Everyone is welcome here at Westfield," Keith Kaplan, the company's vice president of development, told activists at Saturday's event.
Kaplan, who said he is gay, flew in from Los Angeles to apologize for the incident. The executive also touted Westfield's policy of giving benefits to domestic partners.
"I was surprised," he said later in an interview. "This was an unfortunate misunderstanding."
Though gay rights groups said they were gratified by Westfield's gestures, demonstrator Dennis Pare sounded a more critical tone of the mall's intentions.
"Who spends money? Gays do," said Pare, 60. "They want to save their bottom line."
The peaceful demonstration lasted almost two hours, but turned into a rally rather than a kiss-in.
Chesmore and Guzman, the couple who went public with the incident, did not attend the event. The pair could not be reached for comment Saturday.