Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Eureka Springs breaks new ground next week.

EUREKA SPRINGS - The north Arkansas resort town of Eureka Springs breaks new ground next week. The city plans to to begin recording unions of gay and unmarried couples, and issuing certificates noting the partnerships.

It could draw even more tourists to the tourist-hungry town, but not everybody in town is pleased with that. The Reverend Philip Wilson, pastor of the First Christian Church, says he thinks the new service by the city is at odds with the town's image as a Victorian village. He has taken out newspaper ads expressing his concerns that recording same-sex unions will make Eureka Springs, as he put it, "a homosexual Mecca."

"An alternative to marriage is an obstacle," said Pastor Wilson.

The city council voted unanimously last month to set up the registry of unorthodox unions. The certificates will be issued to any pair over 18 years of age who pay a $35 fee.

"Persons who are in domestic partnerships, whether they're gay, straight, old or young can come in and register with the city of Eureka Springs," said City Clerk Mary-Jean Cell. Cell sees the addition as harmless and helpful.

"Their partners could be covered on their insurance," said Cell.

Despite the potential benefits that would come with a domestic parnership, some see it as a setback.

"A domestic partnership is an alternative to marriage, socially. And, as an alternative, it attacks the very foundation of what marriage is," said Wilson. "I don't think that what god has set changes with the political correctness of what we're doing socially."

But apparently not everyone agrees: Mayor Dani Wilson -- no relation to the preacher of the same last name -- said she's gotten tons of e-mails wondering when the registry would be open for business.

The ordinance is set to go into affect June 22, and the cost to couples for a domestic partnership certificate is $35. Canceling a partnership will cost $20.

Eureka Springs is currently the only city in the state of Arkansas that provides the domestic partnership certification. The town already does a booming business in weddings. With a population of only 2,300 people, more than 4,000 marriage licenses are issued each year for weddings in the town.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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