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 also signed quickly in the hope of ending a week of political fighting and national attention.
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. Hutchinson had asked for the changes this week after he rejected an earlier version of the bill.
Critics and supporters 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.
But critics, including gay-rights activists, prominent business leaders and sports figures, alleged that the Indiana law would allow providers to discriminate by denying services to gays and lesbians. At least three states ordered boycotts of travel to Indiana, conventions threatened to move, and the National Collegiate Athletic Association said it was troubled about possible discrimination.
Facing the pressure, Pence on Monday had ordered a fix by the end of the week.
The amendment is "a very strong statement to assure that every Hoosier's right will be protected," House Speaker Brian Bosma said a news conference where the new language was unveiled. The law "cannot be used to discriminate against anyone."
The amendment offers some protection against discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, the first time an Indiana law has addressed the issue. But the amendment stops short of being a separate antidiscrimination law that some critics of act had sought. Indiana has such laws, but they do not cover cases involving sexual orientation.
Republican leaders said they hoped the national outrage could be "put to bed" with the change.
Support for Restaurant
Supporters of an Indiana pizza restaurant that was thrust into the national spotlight after one of its owners said she wouldn't cater a gay wedding have raised more than $230,000.
Donations for Memories Pizza in Walkerton, Ind., have poured in to the website gofundme.com over the last 18 hours to help "relieve the financial loss endured by the proprietors' stand for faith."
The restaurant has been criticized since one of its owners, Crystal O'Connor, told a local television station the restaurant wouldn't cater a gay wedding because of the proprietors' Christian faith.
"If a gay couple was to come and they wanted us to bring pizzas to their wedding, we'd have to say 'no,' " Crystal O'Connor said.
The O'Connors have said they wouldn't refuse to serve gay customers at the restaurant in the town about 140 miles north of Indianapolis.
Kevin O'Connor told TMZ.com that the backlash, including threatening phone calls, had forced the restaurant to close temporarily.
- Bloomberg News