WASHINGTON – After years of pressure from gay rights groups, President Barack Obama plans to sign an executive order banning federal contractors from discriminating against employees on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity, the White House said Monday.
While Obama lacks the authority to extend that protection to all Americans, the order being drafted by the White House would impact about 14 million workers whose employers or states currently do not ban workplace discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals. The scope of the measure was tabulated by the Williams Institute at UCLA Law School, which studies sexual orientation and gender identity law and public policy.
The president has resisted signing the order in hopes Congress would pass a broader non-discrimination measure that would apply to nearly all employers. While the Senate passed the legislation last year, the measure has languished in the Republican-led House and there is little sign that lawmakers will take it up in an election year.
“We’ve been waiting for quite a few months now for the House to take action and unfortunately there are no particularly strong indications that Congress is prepared to act on this,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said.
The White House’s announcement was a significant victory for gay rights advocates, who widely praised Obama’s decision.
“By issuing an executive order prohibiting federal contractors from discriminating against LGBT people, the president will not only create fairer workplaces across the country, he will demonstrate to Congress that adopting federal employment protections for LGBT people is good policy and good for business,” said Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign.
Officials would not say when Obama would sign the order or why the administration was taking the unusual step of previewing his plans for issuing such a measure.
The announcement comes a day before Obama attends the Democratic National Committee’s annual gay and lesbian fundraiser in New York. While the president has widespread political support among the LGBT community, advocates have become increasingly irritated with the president’s reluctance to move forward with the order.
Obama’s decision could energize progressive voters in a midterm election year where Republicans are seeking to retake control of the Senate. The DNC and several Democratic lawmakers highlighted the president’s announcement Monday and used it to try to draw a distinction with Republicans.
Republicans were largely silent on the decision, though Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch called on the White House to include the same religious exemptions in the order that are included in the legislation the Senate passed last year. The bill includes exemptions for churches and other houses or worship, as well as religiously affiliated organizations.