Gov. Asa Hutchinson has issued a negative response to Republican legislative caucus intentions to push for even more legislation to establish a religious justification for discrimination against gay people, including for county clerks who might not wish to issue marriage licenses.
Hutchinson says there’s no way out for county clerks not to issue licenses and he sees no need for additional legislation.
The statement is welcome and sorely needed from a governor who, to date, has provided little support for equal treatment of gay people in government or elsewhere. This despite his avowed desire to increase business in Arkansas in a corporate world virtually united in support of equity, including workplace protection for gay people. Even Exxon Mobil is getting on board at last.
Here’s what Hutchinson said, with my emphasis, in response to separate unanimous statements from the House and Senate GOP caucuses:
“In response to the statements issued today by the House and Senate Republican Caucuses, I am grateful for their continued efforts to assure the religious freedom protection of pastors, churches and religious institutions as a result of last week’s Supreme Court ruling on same sex marriage. I share their concern and frustration with the Supreme Court’s decision which is contrary to the expressed will of the Arkansas voter. It is important to note that it affects government action only. It has no bearing on private individuals or institutions. The ability of pastors, churches, and private individuals to follow their own convictions on marriage is protected under the First Amendment and has not been affected by the Supreme Court’s ruling. In terms of further legislative action, I am not aware of any legislation that would protect county clerks from the requirements of the ruling.
“I am committed to ensuring the rights of pastors, religious institutions, and private individuals to exercise their freedom of conscience. It is my view that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act passed earlier this year accomplishes this purpose. Regardless, it is very important that our church leaders who have convictions on the definition of marriage understand that I will work every day to protect their right of conscience and freedoms under the 1st Amendment. There will be many future challenges as a result of the Supreme Court decision. I will continue to determine what legislative action is needed to address the myriad of legal issues that will result from the ruling and also what legislation is needed to protect the churches, pastors and religious institutions who cannot follow the dictates of the Court.”
Note that there isn’t a suggestion that Hutchinson will join the majority of American people, according to polling, who support employment non-discrimination laws. But in the current political climate, a pushback of the legislature is something, even if they have the votes to pass whatever they want and override a gubernatorial veto, too.
Here’s the Senate GOP caucus statement.
Here’s the House GOP caucus version.