LGBTQ+ residents find safe haven in Arkansas town steeped in history

Written by on July 2, 2024

ABCNews.com

(EUREKA SPRINGS, Ark.) — A small town in Arkansas boasts a statue of Jesus, 7 stories tall, arms outstretched over a community dotted year-round with Pride flags.

Eureka Springs is a town that welcomes all, a safe haven for the LGBTQ+ community. It has made history as one of the first towns in the South where gay couples have legally married.

One of those was Zeek Taylor and Dick Titus, who are widely considered the first male married couple in the South. The couple moved to Eureka Springs as adults for its small-town feel and arts.

“It is known as the town where misfits fit, which I like,” Taylor said.

Revered by the Osage tribe for its healing waters, Eureka Springs was considered sacred long before finding its place in the Bible Belt. Today, a commission protects just about every building within city limits, many considered historical landmarks.

The city model is “Keep it the same,” meaning they want to maintain its uniqueness despite having only 2,000 residents.

“I mean, it’s a small town, so we know each other,” Titus said. “And if I know you and I respect you and you have an opinion, I’m more and more apt to think it through and to discuss that with you.”

That respect for one another was shown in 2014 when many people from Eureka Springs as well as outsiders lined up very early at the courthouse for a marriage license after a judge struck down a voter-initiated constitutional ban on same-sex marriage on May 9, 2014, legalizing it.

On May 10, 2014, Taylor, Titus, Jennifer Seaton-Rambo, and Kristin Seaton-Rambo were first in line at the courthouse. Jennifer and Kristin are lifelong Arkansans who lived in Fort Smith at the time and drove at 2:30 a.m. to Eureka Springs to get their marriage license.

The courthouse doors were supposed to open at 9 a.m., but Taylor, Titus, Kristin, Jennifer, and others in line were stunned to be told they won’t be getting their licenses that day by the clerk.

“When the clerk showed up, she refused to issue a license to same-sex couples,” Taylor said. “In my mind, I really thought she was denying us our rights because of who we were.”

The clerk who refused to issue the licenses later said that her boss, the county clerk, was out of town.

“Our attorney was talking through the window and telling the officers, look, this is the court rulings, here’s the paperwork,” Kristin Seaton-Rambo said.

The clerk requested input from the attorney general, but after not hearing back, she decided to close the courthouse.

After waiting for hours and with dozens of couples in line, another clerk stepped up. She took it upon herself to help the couples obtain something they had dreamed of receiving for years: to be officially married.

“It was like an angel walked through the doors,” Jennifer Seaton-Rambo said. “And she did what she felt she needed to do, and she married us.”

Jennifer and Kristin Seaton-Rambo became the first same-sex couple in Arkansas to officially say “I do.” At the same time, Taylor and Titus became Arkansas’s first same-sex male couple.

Both couples wept with joy upon receiving their marriage license papers. Additionally, they were the first same-sex couples in the entire South to be married.

“Our conviction is important and there are so many, I cannot stress enough how many people are out there that we want to have the same kind of feelings that we’re able to get,” Jennifer Seaton-Rambo said. “And it’s not always we’ve had trouble and we’ve had times where we’ve been refused or what we feel discriminated against.”

A 2023 study from the Williams Institute found that of the nearly 14 million American adults who identify as LGBTQ+, more live in the South than in any other region.

That same year, the Human Rights Campaign declared a state of emergency for LGBTQ+ Americans, citing an unprecedented number of legislative bills targeting the community.

Arkansas was the first state to pass a ban on gender-affirming care for minors in 2021. A federal judge blocked it, then struck it down in 2023, and it never went into effect.

Eureka Springs has demonstrated how getting to know a stranger can change everything. It makes this place home for couples, despite and because of the challenges.

“The progression that I’ve seen, yes it’s been slow,” Kristin Seaton-Rambo said. “But it’s something that’s encouraging to see, and it’s encouraging to be a part of and to keep that growth growing so that we can get to that point where equality is for everyone.”

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