City council passes first marriage equality resolution in state

Thursday, November 15, 2012

At Monday night's City Council meeting, Eureka Springs became the first city in Arkansas to pass a resolution in favor of marriage equality.

Citing a long list of legal decisions beginning with 1967's Loving v. Virginia, in which Chief Justice Earl Warren said, "[t]he freedom to marry has long been recognized as one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men," and referencing the Obama administration's 2011 refusal to defend the Defense of Marriage Act, this new resolution dovetails with Eureka's 2007 Domestic Partnership Registry, which "recognizes that family configurations exist in many different forms, including unmarried individuals who consider each other as partners in and for life."

The resolution was the joint effort of Michael Walsh and Lamont Richie.

"It has been in the works for a couple of months," said Richie, who spoke at length on the issue during the public comment portion of Monday night's meeting. "San Antonio had passed a similar resolution, and we approached Aldermen Lany Ballance and James DeVito, who were happy to sponsor it to the council."

In his address to the council, Richie, a long-time Eureka resident who was transit director for many years, referenced the earlier DPR.

"In 2007, few had any realistic hope that within their lifetimes they would see marriage opening up to gay couples as well as straight," he said. "Since then, 'Don't Ask Don't Tell' has been repealed; DOMA -- the Defense of Marriage Act -- has been declared unconstitutional by two federal appeals courts and may well be taken up by the U.S. Supreme Court later this month; along with a federal appeals court finding that California's Proposition 8 was unconstitutional; and last Tuesday, three states voted to allow same-sex marriages, while a fourth defeated a constitutional amendment that would ban them."

Richie acknowledged the religious argument against same-sex marriage but said, "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 that automatically carries with it such benefits as survivorship rights."

Eureka Springs was the first and only city in Arkansas to adopt a Domestic Partnership Registry, Richie concluded, adding, "Let her be the first -- and so far, only -- city in Arkansas in which the City Council steps forward with an endorsement of marriage equality."

The resolution passed 4-0-1, with Ken Pownall voting "present."

Other actions

Acting on the recommendations of Beverly Blankenship, who spoke for the Planning Commission/Board of Zoning Adjustment, the council asked City Attorney Tim Weaver to draw up a pair of brief ordinances outlining specifics on nonconforming signage in the city, one regarding maintenance of those peculiar-but-approved signs, and one officially banning electronic signage.

Some debate ensued over wording in a new ordinance written by Weaver outlining what constitutes short-term or transient rentals in R-1 residential zones. The issue revolves in part around a short list of local short-term rentals that were granted business licenses immediately before a moratorium was placed on business licenses of the category that includes these businesses. This moratorium had been scheduled to expire Oct. 22 but was extended another 60 days at that point.

Blankenship questioned whether the proposed ordinance solved the problem it was intended to solve, since it defined "short term" residency as seven days or less, rather than 30 days or less, as Planning had suggested.

"When we sent this request to you in April, Planning was trying to prohibit anything less than monthly or yearly rentals in residential areas," she said. "That's why we asked you to remove the word 'weekly.' I personally don't understand how what you have received from the city attorney is accomplishing what we were asking. I'm still not convinced you have something that's protecting your neighborhood from less than monthly or yearly rental."

Read into the record were the addresses of these businesses:

10 Alamo St., 3 Armstrong St., 23 Fairmont St., 18 Hale St., 12 Hillside Ae., 11 Hilton St., 18 Nut St., 9 Singleton St., 10 Singleton St., 265 Spring St.

Actually, according to Blankenship, only three of the above addresses have actually gone ahead and been operating as rentals and paying the appropriate taxes.

Ward voting ordinance dies on table

The issue of changing the city's voting system for city council members from at-large to the ward system died on the table to the dismay of Lindblad, who simply shook her head when the proposed ordinance failed to find a second to the motion to read it into the record for the third time. (All ordinances require three readings at the council table to allow public input, among other reasons.)

Earlier in the meeting, resident Ed Leswig of 30 Eureka St. spoke strongly against the ward voting system for Eureka. Like DeVito in a past meeting, Leswig urged the issue to be put to a public vote. He began by describing himself as a member of the "sheeple," a disparaging term applied to the citizenry at an earlier meeting. "My reason for appearing tonight is to comment on the lame duck members' efforts to change the way City Council members are elected. Before you vote on this insane idea, one of you lame duckers give the citizens one valid reason why you are voting for this. 'Because you can' should not be an acceptable reason. If Eureka Springs were 25 times our size, there would be ward-specific issues that would justify voting by ward. The issues that effect one specific ward here, typically affect all. If this effort continues, and the lame ducks get it approved a third time reading, I urge the mayor to veto it and save the incoming council the burden of overturning an ignorant and self-serving action of the current council. The council is supposed to work for all the citizens of Eureka, therefore should be voted by all the citizens. Please tell us how this effort benefits the citizens; tell the sheeple -- they want to know. In closing, let me say I'd rather be a sheeple than a lame duck."

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