Governor Mike Beebe (D) made history last night by becoming the first Arkansas Governor to speak to a gay rights group, but reiterated his opposition to same-sex marriage and civil unions. Beebe also defended the Batesville Daily Guard’s decision to exclude a same-sex partner from an obituary, arguing that the paper followed its policy of not listing partners in unpaid obituaries. He also pushed back against the suggestion that the paper’s policy amounted to de facto discrimination because gay couples can’t marry in Arkansas:
Q: That still ignores the issue that straight people can get married and same sex couples can’t. So it’s de facto discrimination the way you look at it.
BEEBE: But that’s the law. That’s the constitution and that’s the way it is.
Q: You don’t have a problem with that?
BEEBE: No, I think marriage is an institution as defined in the law and you and I disagree with that. I do have a problem with that. That is a fundamental disagreement you and I have. [...]
Q: Speaking in terms of strictly of government, do you think LGBT people are discriminated against in Arkansas?
BEEBE: Well, if you measure that by whether or not you believe there should be a law that permits marriage, to other than between a man and a woman, then you’ve answered your own question. I don’t think that’s discrimination because I think that’s appropriate societal judgment. I think that’s appropriate societal…
As the question and answer session went on, Beebe seemed unaware that Arkansas did not have a law prohibiting employers from firing individuals on the basis of sex or gender identity and initially claimed that it was illegal for a business to fire an employee because she or he is gay. He was corrected by the crowd and sounded embarrassed by the snafu. Earlier in the night, Beebe also predicted that a law banning discrimination on the basis of sex and gender would not pass in Arkansas. Listen to that exchange:
“The most important thing is stop hating everybody. Everybody stop hating. Everybody try to be a little more empathetic and a little more tolerant. Everybody understand that there are certain lines some people won’t cross. And in my opinion one of those things is marriage,” he added. Beebe also claimed that he had “evolved” on gay issues, pointing to the fact that he now supports gay people becoming foster parents.