WASHINGTON (AP) – President Barack Obama plans to sign an executive order banning federal contractors from discriminating against employees on the basis of their sexual orientation, a White House official said June 16.
The move follows years of pressure from gay rights groups for Obama to act on his own while a broader employment non-discrimination measure languishes on Capitol Hill. The Senate passed the legislation last year but the bill stalled in the Republican-led House and there is little sign that lawmakers will take it up in an election year.
There is currently no federal law that explicitly bans workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. While Obama does not have the authority to extend that protection to all Americans, he can take unilateral action that impacts federal contractors, which make up nearly one-quarter of the U.S. workforce.
Obama has used this tactic before, signing executive orders that raise the minimum wage for federal contractors and expanding the number of workers who would be eligible for overtime pay. White House officials have cast the approach as part of the president’s effort to work around a Congress that continues to be mired in gridlock.
But those moves increased the frustration among gay rights supporters who have long pressed Obama to extend workplace discrimination protections to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals working for federal contractors. The White House publicly offered little explanation as to why the president moved forward on the wage-related orders but not the anti-discrimination measure.
The official would not say when Obama planned to sign the order, only that the president had asked his staff to prepare a measure for his signature. The official insisted on anonymity, lacking authorization to discuss the president’s decision by name.
The official said the White House wanted to preview the president’s upcoming action because of the “intense interest” in the executive order.
The announcement comes one day before Obama travels to New York for the Democratic National Committee’s annual gay and lesbian fundraiser. LGBT donors have used previous fundraisers to press Obama on this issue.
Obama’s plan to sign the order was welcomed by gay rights groups. Rea Carey, the executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, called it a “major step forward.”
“Through his actions, the president has demonstrated again his commitment to ending discrimination,” Carey said.
The White House also issued a press release:
“The President has declared 2014 a year of action – vowing to use the power of his pen and phone to take action on behalf of the American people to strengthen the economy and the middle class. His actions have been driven by the core American principle that if you work hard and play by the rules, you should have the opportunity to succeed, and that your ability to get ahead should be determined by your hard work, ambition, and goals – not by the circumstances of your birth, your sexual orientation or gender identity.
“Today, millions of Americans in most states in the country go to work every day knowing they could lose their jobs simply because of who they are or who they love. No current federal law adequately protects lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) workers from employment discrimination. That’s why the President has long supported federal legislation to explicitly prohibit employers from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Last November, the Senate passed the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) with strong bipartisan support. However, the House has failed to act on this important legislation.
“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 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.
“President Obama is proud of the accomplishments he and his Administration have made to advance and promote equality, justice, and dignity for all members of the LGBT community. From signing an inclusive Hate Crimes law to passing the Affordable Care Act, from reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act with provisions to protect LGBT victims to ensuring equality in federal housing, we have taken many important steps forward. While work remains to ensure that all Americans, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, are equal under the law, we look forward to continuing to make progress in the months and years ahead.”