March 27, 2015 at 5:13 pm EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Arkansas Senate approves anti-gay religious freedom bill

Asa Hutchinson, Arkansas, Republican Party, gay news, Washington Blade

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson says he will sign into a law a religious freedom bill that critics contend would allow anti-LGBT discrimination. (Photo public domain)

The Arkansas Senate on Friday approved a religious freedom bill that critics contend would allow anti-LGBT discrimination in the state.

Lawmakers by a 24-7 vote margin approved House Bill 1228 that state Rep. Bob Ballinger (R-Hindsville) introduced.

The Arkansas House of Representatives last month overwhelmingly approved the controversial measure. Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson has said he will sign HB 1228 into law once it reaches his desk.

“A state action shall not substantially burden a person’s right to exercise of religion, even if the substantial burden results from a rule of general applicability,” reads HB 1228.

NWA Center for Equality, an LGBT advocacy group in Northwest Arkansas, criticized the passage of HB 1228.

Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin, who is from Arkansas, on Friday reiterated his previous calls for Hutchinson to veto HB 1228.

“This bill is a poison pill for jobs and investment in the state of Arkansas, and Gov. Hutchinson has a duty to veto it,” said Griffin in a statement. “If he does not, his reputation will be forever stained and the people of the state of Arkansas will suffer for his willingness to cater to a small political faction whose sole intent is to discriminate against their fellow Arkansans.”

Griffin on Thursday announced HRC will run a full-page ad in the San Jose Mercury News in California’s Silicon Valley that highlights the fact HB 1228 targets “LGBT people and religious minorities.” Apple and the Arkansas-based Walmart are among the companies that publicly oppose the controversial measure.

Hutchinson last month allowed a bill that prevents municipalities from enacting non-discrimination ordinances for people who are not already protected under state law to take effect. The measure came into force amid criticism from LGBT rights advocates that Griffin and HRC did not do enough to stop it.

Former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton — who occupied the Governor’s Mansion in Arkansas as governor and first lady of the state until 1993 — also did not publicly speak out against the bill.

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence on Thursday signed a religious freedom bill into law that is nearly identical to the one that Arkansas lawmakers have approved. Members of the Georgia House Judiciary Committee on the same day debated a similar measure.

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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