Arkansas governor signs amended 'religious freedom' measure

Willie Grace | 4/2/2015, 5:39 p.m.
In the wake of intense backlash against a similar law in Indiana, first-term Republican governor had rejected the first version ...
Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson signed a religious freedom measure into law on Thursday after state lawmakers overhauled their proposal so that it mirrors the federal law.

In the wake of intense backlash against a similar law in Indiana, first-term Republican governor had rejected the first version Arkansas lawmakers had sent to his desk, instead asking for two tweaks so there would be no daylight between his state's law and the one President Bill Clinton signed in 1993.

"I think it's sending the right signal, the way this has been resolved, to the world and the country that Arkansas understands the diversity of our culture and workforce but also the importance of balancing that with our sincerely held religious convictions," Hutchinson said Thursday afternoon.

Hutchinson's decision to sign the law follows an uproar in Indiana, where Gov. Mike Pence has faced pressure from businesses, sports associations like the NCAA and popular culture figures to backtrack on a similar religious freedom law he signed last week. In Arkansas, was Wal-Mart applying the most pressure.

Hutchinson earlier this week asked lawmakers to recall the law that the Arkansas House had given final approval on Tuesday --- or to send him follow-up legislation that makes the changes he requested.

Meanwhile, Hutchinson said, he's considering signing an executive order that bars discrimination among the state's workforce.

"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," Hutchinson said then. "It has divided families, and there is clearly a generational gap on this issue."

Case in point, Hutchinson said: His son Seth signed a petition asking him to veto the bill --- and also gave his father permission to tell reporters he'd done so.

Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton, a Republican, told CNN's Wolf Blitzer that it was a "legitimate question to ask" whether someone who "strongly believes that gay marriage is not consistent with her personal conscience" should be "compelled by law" to offer services to gay couples.

"I think that's a reasonable question to ask, and I don't think we should call that woman bigoted or hateful or that we should impose criminal, or even civil fines," he said during an interview on "The Situation Room."

He also suggested the controversy surrounding the bill was overblown, and urged viewers to "have a sense of perspective about our priorities."

Cotton, a prominent GOP hawk who's led the charge against the developing nuclear deal with Iran, said preventing a nuclear-armed Iran was a more important priority for the U.S.

Republican Arkansas state Sen. Bart Hester also defended the bill in an interview on CNN's "The Lead" with Jake Tapper -- though he didn't directly answer questions about whether the law would allow discrimination.

He said the measure would mean Arkansas residents "would not have to perform a message that they don't agree with" -- and when Tapper asked if that would include Christian florists, bakers and photographers who refused to participate in a same-sex wedding, Hester indicated he agreed.