Liberal haven in conservative state becoming destination for gay couples looking to cement commitments
EUREKA SPRINGS, Ark. It’s long been known as a gay-friendly liberal outpost in a conservative frontier, but now this quaint village is gaining a reputation as a romantic getaway for same-sex couples who want to register as domestic partners.
Since the Eureka Springs City Council approved the creation of a domestic partner registry in May, gay and lesbian couples from across Arkansas and from several other states started flocking to town to register as domestic partners. The ordinance became effective on June 22 after the council voted unanimously to approve it.
City Clerk Mary Jean Sell said she has registered 132 couples in the domestic partner registry, which is open to gay and straight couples. Only a half dozen of the registered couples have been straight, she said.
Couples do not have to be residents of Eureka Springs to take advantage of the registry, Sell said.
“The ordinance says you must be 18 years of age and have 35 bucks,” Sell said. “They get a certificate of registration. If they want to do some sort of ceremony, they have to make their own arrangements for that.”
Couples from Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri, Ohio, Oklahoma and Texas have registered so far, Sell said.
“The majority of them are from Arkansas,” Sell said. “I’ve heard of little towns since June that I didn’t even know existed.”
Just down the road in Rogers, Ark., Perry Davidson and Fred Delucci are planning to put their names in the registry, exchange vows in the garden of the New Dehli, a local restaurant, and spend a honeymoon night in the elegant Crescent Hotel that sits on a hill overlooking the town. They plan to exchange vows on Dec. 6, following up with a reception in their home in Rogers on Dec. 15.
Davidson, 53, said the registry offers them an opportunity to seal their union, a relationship that began about a month ago. After knowing each other casually for several years, they suddenly fell in love after spending a few quiet evenings together, he said.
“We can prove how much we truly love each other, and that we are committed to a monogamous relationship,” Davidson said. “We want to show our friends and family we are genuinely committed. It’s not just an affair, a relationship or a casual acquaintance. It’s something for life.”
It is important to establish the commitment, said Delucci, who ended a relationship with another man to become involved with Davidson. They had not lived together in about a year, and the relationship had evolved into more of a friendship, he said.
“I think in this day and age that just because we are gay doesn’t mean we can’t be committed to each other in a way other than just living together,” Delucci said.
Davidson and Delucci, who both own homes within about three blocks of each other, are planning to live in one of their homes and rent out the other.
“This is like a marriage,” Davidson said.
The Rev. Suzi Pascucci, a licensed minister with the Universal Life Church, will perform the holy union for Davidson and Delucci. A 20-year resident of Eureka Springs, she has performed about 200 marriages and holy unions in the past six years.
Pascucci said she enjoys performing holy unions for gay and lesbian couples more than heterosexual marriages.
“I believe God is love, and we have no right to judge anybody for anything,” Pascucci said. “If you want to know the truth, the most fun I’ve had has been with gay couples.”
Pascucci said she believes weddings should be entertaining ceremonies.
“I really have enjoyed it,” Pascucci said. “If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be doing it. I think weddings should be fun.”
Sell said that she believes the creation of the registry adds to Eureka Springs’ reputation as a diverse community that is accepting of all.
“That is kind of the general opinion of the city officials, or they wouldn’t have voted for it.”
A group of fundamental ministers in Eureka Springs presented a petition to the city requesting a vote by the city’s 2,300 residents in attempt to rescind the registry ordinance, but the wording of the ballot measure was invalid. The petition was rejected by Sell, and the deadline has passed for presenting a new one.
Sell said there is only a small minority of people in Eureka Springs that objects to the registry.
“Even though it is a tiny little Arkansas town, it is very sophisticated,” Sell said. “We have very well educated, well traveled, and well spoken people here.”
Travis County, of which Austin is the county seat, is the only area in Texas that offers a domestic partner registry. Couples from other locales can also make use of the Travis County registry for a fee of $36.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 23, 2007