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President Obama announces intention to protect LGBT rights by executive order

LA Pride Flag
LA Pride Flag
Heather Barron

Continuing the Obama Administration's careful but relentless campaign of advancing GBLT rights, the Administration announced today that it is in the process of drafting an executive order banning discrimination against LGBT persons by Federal contractors in light of the stalled progress of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act in the House.

Various estimates claim that between 16 and 28 million Americans will be covered by the order, which will apply to all companies that provide more than $10,000 in goods and services to the Federal Government in any single year.

Senator Jeff Merkley (D-Or), the lead sponsor in the Senate of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, praised the White House’s plans and called on House Speaker John Boehner to hold a vote on ENDA. The bill passed the Senate late last year, but House Republicans have refused to bring the matter up for a vote. While the President's proposed executive order will cover only Federal employees, ENDA will provide protections to all Americans.

"Most Americans don’t know that it’s still legal in many states to fire someone for their sexual orientation or gender identity", said Merkley. "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. No one should be fired because of who they are or whom they love."

Many are suggesting that the President is publicly announcing this new executive order in advance of actually signing it as a way of threading a needle between pressuring the House to act while avoiding any potential conflict with whatever the Supreme Court decides in the Selbelius v Hobby Lobby case, which is expected to be announced by June 30th. Others speculate that since the religious exemption in ENDA is considered by activists to be overly broad and undermines the purpose of the bill, this move will create pressure to tighten the exemption to more closely resemble the existing emption based on the one included in the 1964 Civil Rights Act.