LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Monday said he believes the state's image benefited from the way a religious objections measure was reworked after an earlier version drew complaints that it was anti-gay.
The Republican governor said he didn't believe the state was damaged by the debate that led to the reworked measure he signed into law last week barring state and local government from infringing on someone's religious beliefs without a compelling reason. Hutchinson asked for changes to an earlier version lawmakers sent him after it faced criticism from gay-rights groups and the state's largest employers, including retail giant Wal-Mart.
"I think it enhanced religious freedom in this state. I think it showed that we want to be balanced and recognize the diversity of the workforce and American culture," Hutchinson said on the Arkansas Educational Television Network. "I think our standing really in how we handled this really made us look good on the world stage."
Hutchinson asked the Republican-led Legislature to revise the measure so it would more closely mirror a 1993 federal law. He signed the revised measure into law Thursday, the same day Indiana's governor approved an amendment to that state's religious objections law. Both states had faced protests from critics who called the measures discriminatory.
Unlike Indiana, Arkansas' compromise measure doesn't include specific language barring the religion law from being used to discriminate based on sexual orientation. The Arkansas law only addresses actions by the government, not by businesses or individuals. Supporters said that would prevent businesses from using it to deny services to individuals.
Opponents have said the measure could still allow for discrimination, particularly because Arkansas doesn't include sexual orientation or gender identity in its anti-discrimination law.
Hutchinson also indicated he was not pursuing an executive order banning workplace discrimination by state agencies on the basis of sexual orientation, an idea he floated as he called for the changes last week. The Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights group, has urged Hutchinson to issue that order.
Hutchinson said reworking the religion bill that had drawn complaints was his top priority when he suggested the order.
"I think that resolves it," Hutchinson said.
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