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Arkansas governor calls for changes to religious freedom bill

Last Updated Apr 1, 2015 5:42 PM EDT

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Wednesday he would not sign a religious freedom bill passed by the legislature unless it makes changes to the legislation.

"This is a bill that in ordinary times would not be controversial," Hutchinson said. "But these are not ordinary times."

"We just didn't quite get it perfect through that legislative process," he said later.

Hutchinson's request for modifications comes one day after Indiana Gov. Mike Pence promised to clarify Indiana's Religious Freedom Restoration Act to make it clear that it does not give businesses a license to deny service to gay and lesbian citizens.

The Arkansas bill would bar state and local governments from infringing on a person's religious beliefs unless they had a "compelling" reason to so. As in Indiana, opponents of the Arkansas legislation said it would give legal support to discrimination against gays and lesbians, especially since sexual orientation does not have special protection from discrimination in either state.

Hutchison said the state legislature should recall or amend the measure to make it more closely mirror the federal version of the bill, the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act that had broad bipartisan support and was signed by former President Bill Clinton.

He also said he would consider issuing an executive order that would make the state "a place of tolerance," and that there would be a debate whether the civil rights law in Arkansas needs to be changed.

Local leaders and businesses including Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola, the Little Rock Chamber of Commerce, and Walmart all released statements urging Hutchinson to veto the bill. His own son, Seth, signed a petition saying he should veto the bill.

"I am happy that my Dad is now calling on legislators to rework HB 1228. I had communicated with him my opposition to the bill, along with thousands of other Arkansans and concerned citizens around the country. I'm proud to have made a small contribution to the overall effort to stop discrimination against the LGBT community in Arkansas, the state that I love (Go hogs!)," he said in a statement to CBS News. "I love and respect my father very much, but sometimes we have political disagreements, just as many families do. Most importantly, I hope that the groundswell of grassroots opposition to HB 1228 and other similar discriminatory bills around the country will energize more Americans and help create a long-lasting drive for change in this country, on many issues. We must build a mass movement of Americans fighting for economic, environmental, and social justice if we want to see real progress."

So did Hillary Clinton, former Secretary of State and onetime first lady of Arkansas.

  • Rebecca Kaplan

    Rebecca Kaplan is a political reporter for CBSNews.com.