INDIANAPOLIS – Indiana and Arkansas lawmakers approved changes Thursday in their respective “religious freedom” legislation to prevent discrimination against gays and lesbians, legislative moves aimed at easing political and business pressures.
Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson immediately signed the bill. In Indiana, Gov. Mike Pence signed the bill ending a week of political fighting and national attention over the issue.
I've signed #RFRA clarification bill. Resolving controversy/making clear every person feels welcome & respected in our state is best for IN.
— Governor Mike Pence (@GovPenceIN) April 2, 2015
Business and sports leaders had taken the lead in pushing for changes in both laws to reflect their desire for greater openness and tolerance.
In Indiana, the amendment states the law cannot be used as a legal defense by those who deny goods and services to customers because of their sexual orientation or gender.
In Arkansas, legislators changed their bill to mirror federal language in a 1993 law. Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson had asked for the changes this week after he rejected an earlier version of the bill.
Critics and supports of the law both complained Thursday about the compromises.
In Indiana, which took the brunt of the national criticism, opponents said the changes do not go far enough in protecting against discrimination, while proponents said that religious liberties are still threatened.
The state’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act was designed to give individuals some protection from lawsuits if they were acting in defense of their religious beliefs. Supporters argued that the law was needed to protect religious freedom and was not designed to discriminate against any group.