Legally Binding

When Michael R. and Deb O'Keefe, owners of a private Commerce City BDSM club, went before the Colorado Court of Appeals to contest the city denying them a sexually oriented business license application, the couple believed the judges in the hearing thoroughly slapped the city's lawyers around ("Fit to Be Tied," April 12).

Turns out Michael and Deb know a good beating when they see one.

On April 12, the court unanimously ruled in favor of the Enclave and directed the city to award the club its SOB license, noting, "We conclude that the city council abused its discretion when it acted contrary to the procedures created by the Commerce City municipal ordinances in denying Enclave's application."

The city had originally denied the club's SOB license based on the Enclave's proximity to an "urban renewal district," but Deb and Michael appealed, arguing that a closer reading of the code indicates that the Enclave was not in violation. As a result, officials changed their reasons for prohibiting the Enclave. They argued that the club was illegal because it was located next door to a single-family home, even though the house had long been used for commercial purposes.

The court found that the city was wrong to change the reasons for denying a license after the couple appealed the decision. The court did not consider the merit of the couple's other complaints, including whether the property next door was a cause for denial or whether the city had abused the their civil rights.

"It feels good to be vindicated," says Michael. "They affirmed everything we've said since May of 2005."

Even those in the local BDSM community who questioned Michael and Deb's public fight with Commerce City seem pleased with the decision. "I'm glad Mike and Deb got what they wanted. I've always respected what they want to do. I am assuming their attendance should pick up over the next few weeks, which they desperately need," says Love Slave, owner of a private Denver BDSM club, which doesn't have an adult license because the City of Denver told her it wasn't necessary for a private social club. "Maybe Commerce City has learned its lesson and will let them be."

That remains to be seen.

"We have 45 days to determine whether we will appeal to the Supreme Court or not, and at this point, we are evaluating whether we will appeal," says Commerce City spokeswoman Heather Grady. "Right now there has been no decision made."

The fact that the city would even consider appealing the court's decision has Michael fit to be tied. "Again they are going to dick around and stall and push and just keep harassing us until we go away," says Michael. "Once we get done with this license issue, we will address the content of their behavior and how they went about this."

The couple has hired Denver attorney David Lane to investigate filing a federal civil-rights lawsuit against Commerce City. "It was a unanimous decision from the appeals court. Why would the city keep it up?" asks Michael. "It would just be one more indication of how far they will go to keep 'people like us' outside the city."

Or maybe Commerce City is just a glutton for punishment.

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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