Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson
Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson has surprised many by refusing to sign his state’s religious freedom bill, at least until it’s been amended.
Hutchinson had previously expressed his support for the bill, which would allow for discrimination on the basis of religious views.
However, amid this week’s massive and unprecedented backlash against the state of Indiana’s enactment of a similar bill, he has now changed his mind
On Wednesday, Hutchinson, facing mounting pressure in his own state again the law, said in a press conference that he had asked lawmakers to recall or amend the bill so that it “minimises the chances for discrimination” against LGBT people and other groups.
“This is a bill that in ordinary times would not be controversial, but these are not ordinary times,” he said.
“The issue has become divisive because our nation remains split on how to balance the diversity of our culture with the traditions and firmly held religious convictions. It has divided families, and there is clearly a generational gap on this issue.”
He revealed that his son Seth had signed a petition calling on his father to veto the bill.
Hutchinson also said that he would consider an executive order granting an unspecified set of protections for LGBT state employees.
He added that he wants Arkansas “to be known as a state that does not discriminate but understands tolerance.”
America’s largest LGBT rights group, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), tentatively welcomed the governor’s move.
“It’s clear Governor Hutchinson has heard the voices of thousands of Arkansans and millions across the nation, and today’s decision to temporarily stop this discriminatory law from advancing is a sign of progress,” commented HRC President Chad Griffin in a statement.
“But the proof will be in the pudding, and we must now wait to see what actions and language Governor Hutchinson and the Arkansas legislature put forward in the coming days and weeks,” he said.
“It is imperative that any legislation that advances must have language that explicitly ensures that it will not undermine the fundamental rights of LGBT people and all other Arkansans,” Griffin added.