Eureka Springs on Monday became the first city in Arkansas to endorse marriage equality, according to a report from retired journalist Michael Walsh, a resident who authored the city’s domestic partner registry five years ago.
In an email to Dallas Voice, Walsh said he was one of two leaders of a low-profile campaign to persuade the City Council to adopt the marriage equality resolution who spoke in favor of it at Monday’s meeting. Lamont Richie, a former city official and currently a Carroll County Quorum court judge, was blunt about the resolution’s intent.
“This will put you on record as supporting marriage equality,” Richie told the council.
Although no opponents of marriage equality appeared at the meeting, Richie anticipated conventional arguments against the notion. “I disagree with the conclusion that someone else’s religious belief should deny me and my partner of nearly 28 years the choice to enter into a legal relationship.”
Walsh said he told the council: “True equal marriage rights are a long way off in Arkansas and the South. We know that. But the resolution before you is powerfully symbolic and potentially influential. Tonight, you can jump-start history.”
Before his comments, Walsh submitted a 33-page list containing the names of more than 700 supporters, including former Eureka Springs Mayor Dani Joy and Arkansas state Rep. Kathy Webb.
Of the petitioners, Walsh said, “They know Eureka Springs is the only city in Arkansas that can do this and, certainly, the one city that should.”
Without discussion and with one council member voting “present,” a four-member majority approved the measure.
Eureka Springs, population 2,300, a thriving tourist town listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is often citied a “the San Francisco of Arkansas,” as much for the high-visibility rainbow flags adorning downtown storefronts and its disproportionately large gay and lesbian population, as for its steep and narrow streets, reproduction trolleys and turn-of-the-century Victorian homes.
Long a destination for gay and lesbian vacationers, the town has three “Diversity Weekends” each year and more than 50 gay-owned businesses.
The Eureka Springs resolution comes less than six weeks after the Austin City Council took similar action. Both Arkansas and Texas have state constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage.