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April 02, 2015

Arkansas, Indiana lawmakers seek fixes of religion acts

Lawmakers in Indiana and Arkansas plan remedies on Thursday to religion acts that were sent back to them this week following criticism from rights activists and businesses who said the measures allowed discrimination against gays.

In Indiana, lawmakers planned to unveil changes to the state's Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), enacted into law last week, which spurred protests, threats of boycotts and warnings from powerful U.S. firms about pending economic damage for the act's perceived stand against U.S. ideals of inclusion.

"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," Speaker Brian Bosma told a news conference. 

"Nothing could have been further from the truth but it was clear that the perception had to be addressed," he said.

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.