LITTLE ROCK, Ark., March 31 (UPI) -- Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchison said he'll sign into law a so-called "religious freedom bill" after the state House passed the controversial legislation Tuesday.
The bill passed the Arkansas Senate on Friday and passed the House on Tuesday by a vote of 67-21.
Hutchison didn't immediately react to the passage of the bill, but previously said he intends to sign it into law.
The House bill, sponsored by Rep. Bob Ballinger, a Republican, protects individuals and businesses that want to refuse services based on religious beliefs. Opponents say the Religious Freedom Restoration Act would open the door to all kinds of discrimination, including discrimination based on race, religion, age and gender identity. Several Democratshave lashed out against the bill, saying it justifies discrimination against gay people.
"Having grown up in the South ... I know religious freedom has meant that slavery was OK," said Sen. Linda Chesterfield. "It has meant that Jim Crow was OK. It has meant that it was OK to keep people from achieving that which they deserved."
Dozens of protesters filled the state Capitol demanding a change to the bill. Ballinger dismissed claims the bill would allow discrimination, adding other states have similar laws.
He said the new law is "not nearly of exciting of a law change as I think a lot of people think it is."
"We're not creating a new experiment here, what we're doing is we're stepping in to be consistent" with other states that have enacted similar law.
More than a dozen other states have similar laws, including a recently adopted law in Indiana, that has drawn criticism from across the country. Apple CEO Tim Cook tweeted Friday: "Apple is open for everyone. We are deeply disappointed in Indiana's new law and calling on Arkansas Gov. to veto the similar #HB1228."
Yelp CEO Jeremy Stoppleman said on the company's blog that such laws set a "terrible precedent that will likely harm the broader economic health of the states where they have been adopted" and urged states to reject such measures, adding, "We're looking at you, Arkansas."