Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson said in a press conference Wednesday that until changes were made, he would not sign his state’s version of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a similar bill that has incited national uproar in Indiana.
The recent firestorm over religious freedom laws in Indiana spread to Arkansas when the state’s legislature passed the bill Tuesday and sent it to Hutchinson, who had indicated in the past he would likely sign the bill.
“This is a bill that in ordinary times would not be controversial,” Hutchinson told reporters. “But these are not ordinary times.”
Arkansas lawmakers now must navigate making the bill agreeable to the governor, even when many are still confused about what the law will actually do.
The opposition to the bill included Walmart, the state’s biggest corporation whose headquarters reside in Arkansas.
“Today’s passage of HB1228 threatens to undermine the spirit of inclusion present throughout the state of Arkansas and does not reflect the values we proudly uphold,” Doug McMillon, CEO of Walmart, wrote in a statement. “For these reasons, we are asking Governor Hutchinson to veto this legislation.”
Critics say Arkansas’ bill is different from past RFRA laws in that it allows businesses and individuals to discriminate against gay people, a claim that critics of Indiana’s law have espoused and proponents of the bill have denied.
“This legislation doesn’t allow anybody to discriminate against anybody, not here,” State Rep. Bob Ballinger, a Republican who sponsored the bill, told the Washington Post. “The bill does just the opposite. It focuses on the civil rights of people believing what they want to believe, and not letting the government interfere with that.”
The RFRA law was first passed at the federal level in 1993 and then in many states in an attempt to protect people’s religious liberty, but is has since become seen by many as a way to discriminate against gay people.
Indiana Gov. Mike Pence has since vowed to “fix” the law, but it remains unclear what exactly that means. He asked for legislation on his desk by the end of the week. (Related: Confused About The Furor Over Indiana’s Religious Freedom Law? Read These 9 Things)
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