Lawmakers in Indiana and Arkansas, the two states in the middle of gay rights protests over laws designed to ‘uphold religious freedom’ are engaging in hurried climbdown today, with both moving to alter legislation that critics say legalises discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
In Indiana, lawmakers are set to introduce new language for the state’s “religious freedom” law Thursday, to clarify that the law does not allow businesses to deny goods or services to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals.
Speaker Brian Bosma told a news conference.
“What was intended as a message of inclusion, inclusion of all religious beliefs, was interpreted as a message of exclusion, especially for the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community. Nothing could have been further from the truth but it was clear that the perception had to be addressed.”
The Arkansas Senate took up the challenge late on Wednesday, sending legislation to the House of Representatives that would bring it in line with federal statutes. A House panel is due to take up that law on Thursday.
The Arkansas act was passed this week in the Republican-controlled statehouse and sent back Wednesday to lawmakers by Governor Asa Hutchinson, a Republican. Hutchinson was asked to veto the measure by retail giant Wal-Mart Stores Inc., which is based in the state.
Twenty U.S. states and the federal government have RFRAs, which allow individuals to sue the government if they believe their First Amendment religious rights have been violated.
But those in Indiana and Arkansas go further than all but one of the state laws, allowing lawsuits between private parties.
That raised the possibility of businesses such as realtors using the law as a defense if they are sued for refusing to show homes to a member of the LGBT community.