LITTLE ROCK — The head of Arkansas’ economic development agency advocated repeal of Arkansas’ gay marriage ban Monday, an opinion that is at odds with that of Gov. Mike Beebe.
Arkansas should treat all of its citizens "equally under the law," and allowing gay marriage could be an economic boost for the state, Arkansas Economic Development Commission Director Grant Tennille said during a news conference at which a gay rights group unveiled poll results it said shows attitudes about same-sex marriage are changing in the state.
The poll, commissioned by the Human Rights Campaign, showed that while a majority of Arkansans overall oppose marriage equality, most Arkansans under 30 support marriage by people of the same sex.
Tennille said that by abolishing the state restriction on gay marriage, Arkansas would attract more investment capital, human capital and encourage more workers to stay in Arkansas.
"I think it’s the right move for Arkansas in a lot of ways. It’s the right move for Arkansas’ economy, in my opinion," Tennille said in an interview with Arkansas News Bureau business columnist Roby Brock. "I believe that the most vibrant economies in the world are the ones that are the most free and the most equal. I think Arkansas has a real opportunity here to lead the South."
In 2004, 75 percent of Arkansas voters approved Amendment 83, which defines marriage as between one woman and one man. The amendment bans gay marriage and civil unions.
Beebe has expressed his opposition to gay marriage in the past, and though he opposes workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation, he still backs the state’s gay marriage ban, spokesman Matt DeCample said Monday.
"The governor continues to support Amendment 83 and will not be involved with any of the efforts to repeal it," DeCample said.
Both DeCample and Tennille said Beebe has no problem with members of his administration speaking their opinions freely on their own time.
Last week, lesbian couple Kendall and Julia Wright filed a lawsuit in Pulaski County Circuit Court challenging Amendment 83.
The couple, who have two children, were legally married in Des Moines, Iowa, on March 8, following a 2008 marriage ceremony at a church in Arkansas, according to the lawsuit.
The suit followed the group Arkansans for Equality’s submission of wording to the state attorney general for a proposed ballot measure that would repeal Amendment 83.
If the proposal is certified by the attorney general, Arkansans for Equality would have to gather 78,133 signatures of registered voters by July 7, 2014, to get the proposal on next year’s general election ballot.
Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research and Target Point Consulting surveyed 600 Arkansans by phone June 26-30 following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn aspects of the federal Defense of Marriage Act. The margin of error is plus or minus 4.9 percentage points.
Among the poll results: 63 percent of Arkansans know a gay person; 72 percent of Arkansans under the age of 50 know a gay person; 55 percent of Arkansans oppose marriage equality while 38 percent support it; 61 percent of Arkansans under the age of 30 support marriage equality.
The head of the Christian conservative group that spearheaded the gay marriage amendment said Monday there is little new in the HRC poll.
"Proponents of same-sex marriage are touting the portions of the poll that show Arkansans think homosexuals ought to be treated fairly. If you had done that same poll 10 years ago, I believe you would have found similar results," said Jerry Cox, president of the Family Council. "Their own poll indicates most Arkansans still oppose same-sex marriage."