Beebe first Arkansas governor to speak to gay group

LITTLE ROCK, Ark Tue Jun 28, 2011 10:18pm EDT

LITTLE ROCK, Ark (Reuters) - Arkansas Democratic Governor Mike Beebe on Tuesday night became the first sitting governor of the state to speak to a gay rights group.

Beebe, who won his second term in 2010, addressed the Stonewall Democrats in a packed church hall of more than 200 people.

In the past, Beebe and the gay community have not agreed on many issues, including adoption rights and gay marriage, and the same was true on Tuesday night.

During a question and answer session, Beebe said an Arkansas newspaper should not have to run the name of a life partner in an obituary if that was the paper's policy. Many in the crowd loudly disagreed, as they did when Beebe said he didn't believe in gay marriage.

"I think marriage is ... as defined by the law," he said, saying unions should be between a man and a woman.

"That's something we disagree on," he said.

When asked if he thought marriage or civil union laws would ever become legal in Bible Belt Arkansas, Beebe said no.

But his appearance echoes other changes in the state, said Kathy Webb, the state's only openly gay legislator.

"Even if you look at the polls, a majority of Arkansans support the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell," said Webb, a founder of the Stonewall Democrats.

"Four years ago, you wouldn't have even seen that. I think more and more people are coming out of the closet, so to speak, and we are started to see change here."

Beebe told the group his opinions had changed over the years.

In 2006, he was opposed to gays becoming foster parents. When the issue re-emerged in 2008, Beebe changed his viewpoint and said there should not be a blanket provision. The determining factor, he said, should be in the best interest of the child.

(Editing by Jerry Norton)

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