Kink in the System

The Colorado Supreme Court may soon have an opportunity to consider masochism and municipal code.

After Commerce City denied a local private BDSM club a sexually oriented business license, the club's owners, Michael R. and Deb O'Keefe, took the city to court ("Fit to Be Tied," April 12). The Colorado Court of Appeals found in their favor and ordered the city to award the Enclave an official SOB license ("Legally Binding," April 19).

Despite its beating in court, Commerce City isn't ready to submit. Last week the city announced it would appeal the decision to the Colorado Supreme Court. "We intend to ask the Supreme Court to hear the case, and if they do, we believe we have a shot at getting the Court of Appeals' decision overturned," says Commerce City Assistant City Attorney Tom Merrigan. "We filed for a motion of extension of time to file a [Supreme Court Appeal]. The Supreme Court granted our request for an extension of time. That means we have until June 25 to do that, and we expect to do that sooner. I also take that as a sign that they have some interest in the case."

The fact that Michael and Deb's case may make it to the state's highest court sets an encouraging precedent for kinky communities nationwide. "This is big for the BDSM community," says Susan Wright, spokesperson for National Coalition for Sexual Freedom.

Municipalities have usually been able to quickly close down controversial BDSM clubs on what Wright calls "administrative trivia" — such as whether all fire and zoning codes were met — without facing the political quandary of whether to consider the BDSM activities themselves. But because Michael and Deb made sure every operation at the Enclave was above board, Commerce City has to attempt to take the fight to the highest court in the state.

"We're right, that's why we're still here," says Michael. "Commerce City is just dragging this through the courts, hoping we'll go bankrupt." If that's the case, he has some bad news for city officials: "We have had twice as many members come down since the Court of Appeals decision. People feel safer now that the court has said we are entitled to be here."

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Joel Warner is a former staff writer for Westword and International Business Times. He's also written for WIRED, Men's Journal, Men's Health, Bloomberg Businessweek, Popular Science, Slate, Grantland and many other publications. He's co-author of the 2014 book The Humor Code: A Global Search for What Makes Things Funny, published by Simon & Schuster.
Contact: Joel Warner