Executives across North Carolina are speaking out against the proposed constitutional amendment on next week's ballot.
They claim it will hurt the state's chances to reel in new business.
"The biggest thing that will hurt us is a perception issue, that North Carolina is a backwater town," said James Avery, CEO of Adzerk, a Durham-based startup.
Avery and dozens of other Triangle CEOs signed an online petition saying the marriage amendment would hurt efforts to recruit top businesses, talent and investors to North Carolina.
"So instead of getting new talent here, we're going to lose talent because they're going to move to other places," he said.
None of the state's largest companies has an official position on the amendment, although some top executives believe it will create a negative business climate.
But some people said it might not impact the state's economic development at all.
"I'm not sure it means much of anything for businesses in North Carolina," said Carol Swartz, a business professor at UNC Charlotte.
Swartz said companies choose to come to the Tar Heel State because of its low taxes, right-to-work laws and reasonable cost of living.
"Social policy might affect the environment that their employees work in, but when it comes down to making a location decision, North Carolina is a wonderful, low-cost state for many types of industries," she said.
Plus, Swartz noted, North Carolina would join its southern neighbors in adopting similar provisions.
"It would hardly make us unique," she said.
Amendment supporters said the claims are an effort to shift focus away from the core debate about marriage.
"They've come up with a number of things that really don't hold water that are designed to make people afraid," said Dan Bishop, who is working to pass the amendment.
Avery said he has heard other startup founders threaten to leave the state if the measure is successful.
"We need to be focused on creating new jobs," he said, "not creating laws that are going to drive away jobs."