Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson called Wednesday for the state legislature to make changes to a religious freedom bill that prompted an angry outcry from prominent businesses and activists who say it could lead to discrimination against gays.
“I’ve asked the leaders of the General Assembly to recall the bill so that it can be amended,” Hutchinson, a Republican, announced in a news conference Wednesday morning.
Hutchinson had promised last week to sign the bill into law when it reached his desk, and on Tuesday the Arkansas state House affixed its final approval to the measure. But as a backlash over a similar bill built against Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, Hutchinson reconsidered his decision.
Noting that his own son signed a petition urging a veto, Hutchinson urged the Arkansas state legislature to tweak the language of the statute to make it mirror the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which was signed into law with bipartisan support by then-President Clinton.
“This is a bill that in ordinary times would not be controversial. But these are not ordinary times,” Hutchinson said.
Pressure had mounted on Hutchinson to reject the legislation, as powerful corporations publicly exhorted the Republican governor to reverse his decision. On Tuesday evening, the Arkansas-based retail giant Walmart posted a statement on Twitter arguing the bill undermined the state’s “spirit of inclusion” and asking Hutchinson to veto it.
“My responsibility is to speak out on my own convictions,” Hutchinson said, “and to do what I can, as governor, to make sure this bill reflects the values of the people of Arkansas, protects those of religious conscience. But also, minimizes the chance of discrimination in the workplace.”