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Religious objection bill: Arkansas governor urges changes

The governor of Arkansas on Wednesday called for changes to a religious objection measure that has faced a backlash from businesses and gay rights.

Move comes after Indiana's governor signed similar measure into law last week, provoking national outcry

Arkansas' governor wants the Legislature to either recall the bill or pass a follow-up measure. (Danny Johnston/AP)

The governor of Arkansas on Wednesday called for changes to a religious objection measure that has faced a backlash from businesses and gay rights.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a Republican, said the law wasn't intended to sanction discrimination based on sexual orientation, as critics have claimed.

Nonetheless, the governor said he wants changes to the bill lawmakers sent him prohibiting state and local government from infringing upon someone's religious beliefs without a compelling interest. Hutchinson said he wants the Legislature to either recall the bill or pass a follow-up measure to make the proposal more closely mirror a 1993 federal religious freedom law.

Hutchinson had initially supported the bill and on Tuesday his office had said he planned to sign it into law.

Opponents of the law say it is designed to protect businesses and individuals who do not want to serve gays and lesbians, such as florists or caterers who might be hired for a same-sex wedding.

Retail giant Wal-Mart commended Hutchinson on Wednesday for reconsidering the law for which the company sought a veto.

The world's largest retailer, which is based in the state, encouraged lawmakers to "make certain any legislation does not encourage discrimination," it said on a statement posted on Twitter.

Hutchinson's move comes after Indiana Gov. Mike Pence signed a similar measure into law last week, provoking a national outcry. Pence this week said he wants follow-up legislation to address concerns that the law allows businesses to discriminate based on sexual orientation.

Similar proposals have been introduced in more than a dozen states, patterned after the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993. Nineteen other states have similar laws on the books.

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