The head of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission called on the state to legalize gay marriage Monday, alongside the Little Rock release of a Human Rights Campaign poll that shows the majority of Arkansans under age 30 back the move.
Grant Tennille said Arkansas should treat all of its citizens "equally under the law."
"Arkansas has a tortured history with this concept," he said. "But we have an opportunity here before us to move first, to be a leader in this country and, maybe more importantly, the South."
Tennille said there is "no doubt" marriage equality would lead to economic growth in the state, noting some companies won't locate in a state without such law. He said Arkansas also loses some of its "best and brightest" who may go to other states where gay marriage is already legal.
"Increasingly, particularly in the area of high-tech, high-skilled knowledge-based jobs, companies look for locations where all of their employees can be welcomed, all of their employees can become part of the community and all of their employees will be treated equally," he said. "I think the first state in the South that moves in that direction will have a leg up ... If we want to move the state forward, this is a simple no-brainer."
Tennille said he did not speak directly with Gov. Mike Beebe about the issue and doesn't expect to change his mind. Beebe has spoken in favor of the 2004 amendment that defined marriage in Arkansas as between a man and a woman.
The bipartisan poll, released Monday by the Human Rights Campaign at Little Rock news conference, showed 61 percent of Arkansans under 30 support "marriage equality" and that 63 percent believe it's wrong to fire someone on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
Chad Griffin, president of the rights group and an Arkadelphia native, said the group is committed to creating "full equality" in Arkansas and the rest of the country.
The poll surveyed 600 Arkansan adults from June 26-30 after the Supreme Court struck down part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act.
The survey, commissioned by the Human Rights Campaign and conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research and Target Point Consulting, carries a margin of error of plus or minus 4.9 percentage points.