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Obama to add gay, transgender protection; spurns exemption

WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama has turned down a plea from religious groups that they be exempt from an executive order he plans to sign Monday prohibiting federal contractors from discriminating against gay or transgender workers, officials said Friday.

The policy – which will add sexual orientation and gender identity to a long-standing list of protected groups – continues the exemption for religious employers provided by former President George W. Bush, said a senior administration official.

That 2002 exemption allows religious employers to restrict hiring to only members of their own faith, but it doesn’t permit the refusal to hire gays on the basis of a religious objection to homosexuality. Ministers will continue to be exempted.

“We need all of our workers to make the most of our talent and ingenuity rather than losing their job based on discrimination,” the senior official said.

Obama will also sign a second executive order extending for the first time protections against discrimination to federal employees who are transgender.

Obama’s strong stand won applause from gay rights groups Friday.

Fred Sainz, a vice president of the Human Rights Campaign in Washington, called the steps “historic and important.”

Some faith-based groups had asked Obama for a broader exemption to the new rules.

“We are deeply disappointed,” said Jeremy Tedesco, senior legal counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative group in Arizona. “An order like this will mandate that religious organizations abandon their religious freedom in order to contract with the federal government.”


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