Virginia governor vetoes anti-gay 'religious freedom' bill
Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe walks after a news conference at the Mariel port in Artemisa province, Cuba January 5, 2016. (REUTERS/Enrique de la Osa)

Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe on Wednesday vetoed a bill that would have allowed ministers and others refuse to marry gay couples because of their religious beliefs.

McAuliffe, a Democrat, said the measure approved by the Republican-controlled legislature was unconstitutional and would drive business away from the state.

"Although couched as a 'religious freedom' bill, this legislation is nothing more than an attempt to stigmatize," he said in a statement.

The Republicans do not have enough votes in the state's General Assembly to override the veto.

The bill would have granted ministers and others empowered to wed people the right to deny marriage services to same-sex couples if performing them would violate their religious beliefs.

McAuliffe's move comes just days after Georgia's Republican governor said he would veto a similar bill after the measure drew national criticism..

Similar measures in states such as Indiana and Arkansas sparked criticism last year, forcing many lawmakers to retreat. North Carolina is also seeing protests over anew law that bars transgender people from choosing bathrooms consistent with their gender identity.

(Reporting by Ian Simpson; Editing by Fiona Ortiz)