Arkansas Economic Development Commission director Grant Tennille says the state should undo its constitutional restriction on gay marriage.

Speaking at a press conference Monday (July 8) to unveil new state poll results from the Human Rights Campaign – a civil rights organization working to achieve equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans – Tennille said Arkansas should treat all of its citizens “equally under the law.”

The polling results, conducted among 600 Arkansans from June 26-30 by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research and Target Point Consulting, measured Arkansas attitudes on gay marriage following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn aspects of the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

Some of the survey results included:

  • 63% of Arkansans know a gay person;
  • 72% of Arkansans under the age of 50 know a gay person;
  • 55% of Arkansans oppose marriage equality, while 38% support it; and
  • 61% of Arkansans under the age of 30 support marriage equality

“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 told Talk Business Arkansas.

He said he thinks 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 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,” Tennille added.

He said he was not aware of the same-sex marriage issue being a reason that Arkansas was overlooked for an economic development project, but Tennille predicted the subject excluded the state from some prospects and would be increasingly detrimental in the coming years.

“I have never had that conversation that has noted that specifically. It’s not a subject that has come up. .. yet. I think it’s likely that we’re just not on some lists – not just Arkansas, but many of our sister states – because of our attitude of discrimination,” said Tennille.

In 2004, Arkansas voters approved a constitutional amendment, Amendment 83, to define marriage as between a man and a woman. The measure passed with 75% support.

Tennille’s position differs from Gov. Mike Beebe (D), who has expressed his opposition to changing the state’s same-sex marriage amendment in the past. Tennille said he was speaking in a personal capacity today, but acknowledged that it would be impossible to separate his position from his professional role as the state’s economic development chief.

“The Governor has always said that members of his administration are free to speak their own minds on their own time,” said Beebe spokesman Matt DeCample.

He added that Beebe is opposed to workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation, but still supports the state’s gay marriage ban.

“The Governor continues to support Amendment 83 and will not be involved with any of the efforts to repeal it,” DeCample said.

“The Governor has always been clear that we’re autonomous and free to express opinions,” Tennille said. “You can still respect someone and love them a lot and not agree with them on every issue.”

You can access the polling firm’s six-page memo on the results at this link.

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Roby Brock
Roby Brock is the Editor-in-Chief and Host of Talk Business & Politics. He can be reached by e-mail at Roby@TalkBusiness.net. Follow him on Twitter: @RobyBrock.