The Governor of Kentucky has vetoed a bill protecting people from prosecution if their actions are “motivated by a sincerely held religious belief”, which human rights campaigners warned would promote discrimination against the state’s LGBT community.

On Friday Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear vetoed House Bill 279, which proposed to give legal protection to those who “act or refuse to act in a manner motivated by a sincerely held religious belief”.

The bill, sponsored by Democratic Representative Bob Damron, gained widespread support among Kentucky lawmakers, and was passed on Friday 1 March by the Kentucky House of Representatives 82 to 7, with 11 abstentions. It was then due to go to a Senate hearing.

The Governor’s website revealed that he had vetoed the bill on Friday, saying it would weaken civil rights and lead to costly court cases.

Mr Beshear said: “I value and cherish our rights to religious freedom and I appreciate the good intentions of House Bill 279 and the members of the General Assembly who supported this bill to protect our constitutional rights to practice our religion.

“However, I have significant concerns that this bill will cause serious unintentional consequences that could threaten public safety, health care, and individuals’ civil rights. As written, the bill will undoubtedly lead to costly litigation.

“I have heard from many organizations and government entities that share those same concerns. Therefore, after giving this measure thoughtful analysis and consideration, today I vetoed the bill.”

Groups which lobbied Mr Beshear to veto the bill included the Gay and Lesbian Services Organization, and Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays.

Kentucky Equality Foundation (KEF) president Jordan Palmer said: “House Bill 279 represents a clear and present danger to the gay and lesbian community and other minority groups around the commonwealth.”

Neither the state of Kentucky nor the US as a nation currently prohibit discrimination against LGBT people in jobs or housing. However, local anti-discrimination laws were recently passed by four Kentucky towns, and campaigners were concerned the bill would undermine them.

It was announced this week that Federal lawmakers will once more attempt to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would make it illegal to fire, refuse to hire, or refuse to promote an employee based on their sexual orientation or gender identity on a national level.