Last year, LGBT groups heavily pressured President Obama to issue an executive order protecting LGBT employees of federal contractors from discrimination because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Obama had made a campaign pledge to do so in 2008, but the White House announced in April 2012 that it would not be issuing such an order, arguing unconvincingly that lasting comprehensive legislation — the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) — should be the priority. Everybody from the Washington Post to faith leaders to Jon Stewart criticized the decision, but discussion of the issue largely went quiet after Obama endorsed marriage equality and the Presidential campaign kicked into high gear.
The activist group GetEQUAL has continued to apply pressure, and Sunday evening was again protesting in front of the White House to raise awareness for what they dubbed the “ENDA EO.” According to Sunday’s Washington Post, the White House hasn’t forgotten about the issue and may now be reconsidering issuing the order:
On social policy, Obama is reconsidering whether to issue an executive order prohibiting federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. When he decided not to issue such an order last year, the White House said it would prefer to pass a law applying to gays and lesbians in the workplace.
But if Congress seems unlikely to act on the broader legislation — called the Employment Non-Discrimination Act — officials have signaled to people working on the issue outside the administration that the president would likely consider issuing an executive order, which can only affect government contractors.
Because of Republican opposition, Congress was no more likely to pass ENDA in 2012 than it is in 2013, so it’s odd that this argument is any more convincing now than it was then. In fact, when Obama used his executive order power to stop deporting undocumented young people after Congress defeated the DREAM Act, the argument for prioritizing legislation was not present at all. Obama could use his State of the Union address this week to call for the passage of ENDA, which House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) “hasn’t thought much” about bringing to a vote, but that endorsement alone wouldn’t protect the gay people in 29 states and transgender people in 34 states who can be fired just for their identities. Though an executive order would only protect the employees of federal contractors, that would still protect a quarter of the American workforce in the meantime.