Arkansas governor wants religious freedom bill recalled, won’t sign in present form

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson answers reporters' questions as Sen. Jonathan Dismang, R-Beebe, background, listens at the state Capitol in Little Rock, Ark., Wednesday, April 1, 2015. Hutchinson called for changes to the state's religious objection measure facing a backlash from businesses and gay rights groups, saying it wasn't intended to sanction discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson answers reporters' questions as Sen. Jonathan Dismang, R-Beebe, background, listens at the state Capitol in Little Rock, Ark., Wednesday, April 1, 2015. Hutchinson called for changes to the state's religious objection measure facing a backlash from businesses and gay rights groups, saying it wasn't intended to sanction discrimination based on sexual orientation. Danny Johnston, AP

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson answers reporters' questions as Sen. Jonathan Dismang, R-Beebe, background, listens at the state Capitol in Little Rock, Ark., Wednesday, April 1, 2015. Hutchinson called for changes to the state's religious objection measure facing a backlash from businesses and gay rights groups, saying it wasn't intended to sanction discrimination based on sexual orientation. Danny Johnston, AP

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson answers reporters’ questions as Sen. Jonathan Dismang, R-Beebe, background, listens at the state Capitol in Little Rock, Ark., Wednesday, April 1, 2015. Hutchinson called for changes to the state’s religious objection measure facing a backlash from businesses and gay rights groups, saying it wasn’t intended to sanction discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Updated: 10:30 p.m. CDT

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson backed away Wednesday from his promise to sign a controversial religious objections bill, bowing to pressure from critics of the measure, including his own son and some of the state’s biggest employers, who say the legislation is anti-gay.

The Republican governor said he wants the Legislature either to recall the bill from his desk to amend it or pass a follow-up measure that would make the proposal more closely mirror a federal religious freedom law. Arkansas lawmakers moved quickly to advance a new version aimed at addressing the governor’s concerns.

Hutchinson said his son, Seth, was among those who signed a petition asking 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.”

Hutchinson initially supported the bill, and on Tuesday, his office said he planned to sign it into law. Hutchinson said Wednesday he’s still committed to signing a religious freedom measure but wants it consistent with the federal law.

“What is important from an Arkansas standpoint is one, we get the right balance. And secondly, we make sure that we communicate we’re not going to be a state that fails to recognize the diversity of our workplace, our economy and our future,” Hutchinson said at a news conference at the state Capitol.

He was the second governor in as many days to give ground to opponents of the legislation.

After Indiana Gov. Mike Pence signed a similar measure last week, Pence and fellow Republicans endured days of sharp criticism from around the country. The Indiana governor is now seeking follow-up legislation to address concerns that the law could allow businesses to discriminate based on sexual orientation.

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Hutchinson also faced pressure from the state’s top employers, including Bentonville-based Wal-Mart Stores Inc., which has asked for the bill to be vetoed. Little Rock’s mayor, the city’s Chamber of Commerce and Arkansas-based data-services company Acxiom have all urged the governor to reject the bill.

Other big names in business, including Apple, Gap and Levi Strauss, have also spoken out against the religious objections measures.

Experts say companies are increasingly concerned about any laws that could alienate customers, hurt state economies or limit employers’ ability to attract and retain talent.

Walmart is particularly influential because it is the world’s largest retailer and the nation’s largest private employer.

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