Barack Obama allowed his White House to release the news that he is planning to sign an executive order banning federal contractors from discriminating against their employees on the basis of sexual orientation.
Ahead of his appearance in New York on Tuesday at a Democratic fundraising gala with gay-rights supporters, and eager to shift the news cycle away from foreign affairs, Obama appears intent on pleasing the LGBT movement. A White House official confirmed Obama’s plans, stating:
Following on his pledge for this to be a year of action to expand opportunity for all Americans, the President has directed his staff to prepare for his signature on an Executive Order that prohibits federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. The action would build upon existing protections, which generally prohibit federal contractors and subcontractors from discriminating in employment decisions on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. This is consistent with the President’s views that all Americans, LGBT or not, should be treated with dignity and respect.
The official admitted there is no date set for Obama’s signature; Obama is reserving the right to sign whenever he chooses. Gay rights groups have been pressuring him to sign the order for months, but so far he has eschewed doing so. Interestingly, the Human Rights Campaign, a gay-rights advocacy group, has admitted that most of the largest federal contractors already refuse to discriminate based on sexual orientation, leading to speculation that the announcement was intended simply to energize a part of the Democratic voting base in 2014.
In the Senate, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act has been passed, which prevents discrimination against all Americans, but the House has waited, largely because GOP members are concerned that a flurry of lawsuits could follow. They are also concerned about infringing on employers’ religious liberties.
Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), the sponsor of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) in the Senate, released a statement and intoned:
With this announcement, the arc of history bends a little farther toward justice. Discrimination simply has no place in American workplaces. This executive order will allow millions more Americans to go to work empowered with the right to do their jobs free of harassment or discrimination. Most Americans don’t know that it’s still legal in many states to fire someone for their sexual orientation or gender identity. That’s because it not only defies common sense, it goes wholly against who we are as a nation. No more excuses. It’s way past time for Speaker Boehner to allow ENDA to have a vote in the House.
DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) echoed Merkley, saying Obama’s intention was a “significant step in our nation’s progress on civil rights.” She added, “Democrats in Congress remain steadfast in our commitment to passing the Employee Non-Discrimination Act into law that will permanently extend these protections to all Americans. It’s time for Republicans to join us.”
White House spokesman Josh Earnest took the opportunity to blast the GOP, asserting, “An executive order along these lines would not be a substitute for robust congressional action. Unfortunately, this is yet another example of Republicans blocking Congress on the kind of issue that has pretty strong support all across the country.”
Obama has been targeting select constituencies this year with actions that bypass Congress; in February, he hiked the minimum wage for employees of federal contractors.
A study released by gay-rights advocates reveals that twenty-one states and the District of Columbia already have laws on the books prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation.
The Employment Non-Discrimination Act has lost support among some gay rights groups because it exempts religious organizations, including hospitals and large charities.