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Arkansas Economic Development Chief Backs Gay Marriage

by Andrew DeMillo
Tuesday Jul 9, 2013

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. - Arkansas' top economic development official on Monday called for legalizing gay marriage and said that treating same sex couples equally under the law could make the state a leader in the South and attract new business.

Economic Development Commission Executive Director Grant Tennille joined the head of the Human Rights Campaign and other supporters of gay marriage at a news conference calling for the state to strike down its same sex marriage ban. Arkansas voters in 2004 approved a constitutional amendment that defines marriage as between a man and a woman.

"I believe that increasingly, particularly in the area of high tech, high skilled, knowledge-based jobs, that companies look for locations where all of their employees can be welcomed, all of their employees can be part of a community and all of their employees will be treated equally," Tennille said at the news conference. "I think the first state in the South that moves in that direction will have a leg up."

Tennille, who was appointed by Gov. Mike Beebe last year, said he didn't speak with the governor beforehand about his remarks and said he didn't expect to change Beebe's mind on the issue. Beebe, a Democrat, has said he's opposed to gay marriage.

"He's one of my best friends and very much a father figure to me. We disagree on this issue," Tennille said. "There are probably a few others that we probably disagree on as well."

Beebe said Tennille wasn't speaking on behalf of his administration but that he didn't mind Tennille talking about his support for gay marriage.

"He certainly has a right to his opinion," Beebe said. "What I've said all along is we've got a constitutional amendment and if you're asking me personally, I still personally believe marriage is between a man and a woman."

The head of the conservative group that campaigned for the 2004 marriage ban said he was disappointed with Tennille's remarks.

"I find it disappointing that one of our state officials would come out and support something that goes totally contrary to the Arkansas constitution," said Jerry Cox, president of the Family Council.

Tennille's support for gay marriage comes as opponents of the 2004 ban are trying on multiple fronts to repeal the state amendment in response to U.S. Supreme Court rulings supporting same-sex marriage. A group last month asked the attorney general's office to approve the language of a proposed amendment that would repeal Arkansas' ban on gay marriage. If approved, the group must gather more than 78,000 signatures from registered voters to place the proposal on the ballot next year.

Meanwhile, a group of 11 same-sex couples is suing in state court to repeal the marriage amendment.

Chad Griffin, the president of the Human Rights Campaign, said his group hasn't decided whether to support the repeal measure proposed for Arkansas' ballot next year.

"What we have to do is be smart and strategic as we march forward, and when we see a path to victory, we need to take it. ... What I know for a fact today is that we have a lot of work to do to change hearts and minds," Griffin, an Arkansas native, told reporters. "We need to get to work today and do more than we've ever done before to organize folks right here in Arkansas, so when the time does come, whenever that is, we'll be ready."

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