The White House has announced that President Barack Obama will sign executive orders protecting LGBT workers employed by federal contractors from discrimination and also banning bias based on gender identity in federal employment.
The indication is that neither order will contain the religious exemptions that are in the proposed Employment Non-Discrimination Act before the House. The broad exemptions in ENDA and the recent Supreme Court ruling in the Hobby Lobby case resulted in a number of civil rights groups withdrawing support for the legislation.
Responding to the scheduling of the signings at the White House, Chad Griffin of the Human Rights Campaign said, “With the strokes of a pen, the president will have a very real and immediate impact on the lives of millions of LGBT people across the country. Each and every American worker should be judged based on the work they do, and never because of a fundamental aspect of who they are — like their sexual orientation or gender identity. These actions from the President have the potential to be a keystone in the arch of his administration’s progress, and they send a powerful message to future administrations and to Congress that anti-LGBT discrimination must not be tolerated. We also call on Congress to immediately pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.”
U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisconsin, praised Obama for "showing strong leadership taking this historic action to advance equality in our country."
But, Baldwin emphasized, Congress still must act. “The fight to pass on to the next generation an America that is more equal not less does not end with the president’s signature," she said. "We have more work to do. Every American deserves the freedom to work free from discrimination and last year the Senate found common ground, passing the Employment Non-Discrimination Act with strong bipartisan support. I will continue to call on the House to put progress ahead of politics and give the Senate-passed ENDA an up or down vote because this legislation provides workplace protections that millions more Americans need and deserve today."
Other reaction to the news:
“I applaud President Obama for taking this historic step to expand equal rights with the signing of an executive order to ban LGBT workplace discrimination by federal contractors. I am also particularly proud that the President will be banning discrimination based on gender identity and gender expression. Civil rights are best advanced by protecting all members of the LGBT community,” said U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y.. “However, even after the signing of this executive order, there will still be far too many workplaces where LGBT workers are not protected from discrimination. In America, sexual orientation or gender identity should not be a factor in employment and the Republican leadership of the House must stop standing in the way of Congress doing its part.”
Heather Cronk, director of the activist group GetEQUAL director, said, "We're so proud today of the decision made by the Obama administration to resist the calls by a small number of right-wing conservatives to insert religious exemptions into civil rights protections. While we will continue to press for full equality under the law for LGBTQ Americans, we’re thrilled with the announcement today and look forward to President Obama signing his name to an executive order on Monday that we can all be proud of."
A the Center for American Progress, longtime LGBT rights leader Winnie Stachelberg said, "The executive order ensures that 28 million hardworking Americans have the protections they need to provide for their families and can go to work without the threat of losing their jobs simply because of who they are or whom they love. While there is still work to be done, this is a watershed moment in our country’s march toward basic fairness, and President Obama has continued to secure his legacy as a champion for equal rights for all Americans."
“The executive order will reach workers not protected by the patchwork of existing state-level nondiscrimination policies,” added Williams Institute executive director Brad Sears. The organization has done a lot of work analyzing the impact of legislation and other policy actions to advance — and in some cases hold back — LGBT equality. “Less than half of the states prohibit sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination, leaving a majority of American workers without protections.”
Editor's note: This story is developing.