Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Tuesday had been expected to sign his state's version of legislation billed as a religious freedom measure, despite complaints that it could lead to discrimination, especially against gays and lesbians.
But all of that changed by Wednesday morning amid a fusillade of opposition that included Wal-Mart, the state's biggest employer, and even the governor's own son.
The governor, who said he would not sign the bill and asked lawmakers to change it, acted with an eye on the furor that has rocked Indiana, where the governor and state lawmakers have been under sharp attack from business leaders and civil-rights groups that say the state's law allows businesses and others to deny services to gays and lesbians. The Indiana law has prompted a travel boycott backed by governors of three states and complaints from sports groups including college basketball and automobile racing.
"This is a bill that in ordinary times would not be controversial," Hutchinson said in a televised news conference, announcing his decision to not sign the measure. "But these are not ordinary times."
Even the governor's son, Seth, had signed a petition asking him to veto the bill, Hutchinson said.
"The issue has become divisive because our nation remains split on how to balance the diversity of our culture . . . " with "firmly held religious convictions," Hutchinson said. "It has divided families, and there is clearly a generational gap on this issue."
Indiana, which is working on a legislative fix for its law that could come as soon as Thursday, is the 20th state to pass what are called restoration of religious freedom acts. They all differ in language from each other and from a 1993 federal version, which was signed by President Bill Clinton.
"It has been my intention all along to have House Bill 1228 to mirror the federal act," said Hutchinson, describing his state's bill. "The bill that is on my desk at the present time does not . . . mirror the federal law."
"I asked that changes be made in the legislation. I've asked leaders in the General Assembly to recall the bill so that it mirrors the federal religious act."
Hutchinson did not publicly explain what changes he wanted. He said the amendments could be made in the bill or the legislature could pass a supplementary measure.
The governor also said he would consider issuing an executive order.
Regardless of the vehicle for the changes and the exact wording, Hutchinson was clear that he wanted something that would ensure that the bill would not be interpreted as discriminatory.
Arkansas is "a state that does not discriminate and respects tolerance," Hutchinson said.