Neither the Indiana nor Arkansas law specifically mentions gay or lesbian people, but opponents are concerned that the language contained in them could offer a legal defence to businesses and other institutions that refuse to serve gay people, such as caterers, florists, or photographers with religious objections to same-sex marriage.
A day after Arkansas governor Asa Hutchinson called on the legislature to change the measure that he had once said he would sign into law, House leaders hoped to give final approval quickly to a bill to address his concerns. Legislative leaders in Indiana were also working on efforts to change that state’s similar recently enacted law.
The bill would prohibit state and local government from infringing upon someone’s religious beliefs without a compelling reason. Hutchinson asked lawmakers to recall the bill, amend it, or pass a follow-up measure that would make the proposal more closely mirror a federal religious freedom law.
“How do we, as a state, communicate to the world that we are respectful of a diverse workplace and we want to be known as a state that does not discriminate but understands tolerance?” Hutchinson said. “That is the challenge we face. Making this law like the federal law will aid us in that effort in communication, but also was my original objective from the beginning.”
Hutchinson was the second governor in as many days to give ground to opponents of the law. After Indiana governor Mike Pence signed a similar measure last week, Pence and fellow Republicans endured days of sharp criticism from around the country. Pence is now seeking follow-up legislation to address concerns that the law could allow businesses to discriminate based on sexual orientation.
Hutchinson’s office as recently as Tuesday had said he planned to sign the bill, but a day later he called for changes.
He has faced pressure from the state’s largest employers, including retail giant Wal-Mart, that had called the bill discriminatory and said would hurt Arkansas’ image.
Hutchinson noted that his own son, Seth, had signed a petition urging him to veto the bill.
“This is a bill that, in ordinary times, would not be controversial,” the governor said. “But these are not ordinary times.”
Supporters insist the law will only give religious objectors a chance to bring their case before a judge.