Arkansas’ legislature Tuesday passed a bill called the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which is similar to the law of the same name that many observers believe has authorized discrimination against LGBT individuals in Indiana. Arkansas’ bill thus goes to Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson for a veto or signature on the same day that Indiana’s Republican governor, Mike Pence, announced that he now supports additional legislation explicitly forbidding such discrimination.
The political dynamics of the situation in Arkansas appear similar to those that pertain in Indiana, with businesses expressing unease over the law’s potential effect while conservative politicians and activists resist suggestions to add language preventing businesses from citing the law in order to deny service to LGBT customers. (Until today, Pence had opposed such additional language.) From the New York Times:
While there were several attempts up until the last minute to add a clause to the bill that would explicitly bar discrimination of gays and lesbians, a measure that Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana pledged to add in a news conferenceon on Tuesday, the sponsors of the bill in the General Assembly rejected such moves.
Business resistance to the bills in both states continued to ratchet up, with Gap and Levi Strauss joining Walmart, Apple, Yelp and other major corporations in expressing disapproval. On Monday, the chief executive of Acxiom, a marketing technology company based in Little Rock that employs nearly 1,600 statewide, urged the governor to veto a bill that was “a deliberate vehicle for enabling discrimination.”
Like Indiana’s law, the text of the Arkansas bill appears designed to protect businesses that refuse service to LGBT customers, explicitly extending religious-freedom protections to for-profit entities and specifying that religious-freedom rights can be claimed in a judicial dispute between private parties. (For what it’s worth, the bill’s Arkansas sponsor appears to believe that businesses in his state already have the right to refuse service to such customers because LGBT individuals are not a specifically protected class under state law.)