Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson Refuses To Sign Religious Freedom Bill

The Governor of Arkansas, Asa Hutchinson, has stated he will not sign the Religious Freedom bill into effect until there have been some changes made which will help protect the rights of gay people. We had reported yesterday that the bill had been approved and all it needed was the Governor’s signature to go into effect.

The Governor’s son, Seth Hutchinson, was apparently instrumental in changing his father’s mind on the issue of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) HB 1228 bill. Critics of the new law believe that it will impact the rights of LGBT individuals because it allows businesses the ability to refuse to serve someone if it conflicts with your religious beliefs. Effectively your chosen faith can be used as a legal defence.

Seth signed a petition asking for the bill to be vetoed by his dad, and even told his father that he was free to make the information public.

Seth is a 31-year-old union organiser and is currently residing in Austin, Texas. “I am happy that my Dad is now calling on legislators to rework HB 1228,” Seth said via a public Facebook post. “I had communicated with him my opposition to the bill, along with thousands of other Arkansans and concerned citizens around the country. I’m proud to have made a small contribution to the overall effort to stop discrimination against the LGBT community in Arkansas, the state that I love (Go hogs!).”

He continued: “I love and respect my father very much, but sometimes we have political disagreements, just as many families do. Most importantly, I hope that the groundswell of grassroots opposition to HB 1228 and other similar discriminatory bills around the country will energize more Americans and help create a long-lasting drive for change in this country, on many issues. We must build a mass movement of Americans fighting for economic, environmental, and social justice if we want to see real progress.”

Governor Asa Hutchinson issued a response on the matter: “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.”

But while there has certainly been a positive impact from the pressure of both LGBT rights groups (and the governors own son), the business communities reactions to the possibility of Arkansas’s signing of the RFRA bill is probably a greater of a concern.

Walmart CEO Doug McMillon

Walmart CEO Doug McMillon

American retailer Wal-Mart’s headquarters are located in Bentonville, Arkansas (which was the home of its very first store) and its CEO, Doug McMillon has opposed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in its current form: “[The RFRA bill] threatens to undermine the spirit of inclusion present throughout the state of Arkansas and does not reflect the values we proudly uphold,” said Doug McMillon in a statement. “For these reasons, we are asking Governor Hutchinson to veto this legislation.”

It’s difficult for the state to write-off the requests of a company with either the size or social standing of Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart alone employs about 1.4 million people in its 4,233 stores located across the USA, bringing in a staggering $476 billion in revenue (the world’s largest company for revenue) for the financial year ending 31 January 2014 (which was about $16 billion profit).

The state of Indiana’s Religious Freedom bill is a close match to the one proposed for Arkansas. Mike Pence, the governor from Indiana, appears to be softening his resolve and will likely make changes to the states own bill, thanks to a lot of pressure from the business world.