A coalition of 37 U.S. Senators who support the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) have signed a letter calling on President Obama to take action now to protect LGBT people from being fired for their identities. Though ENDA faces Republican obstruction in Congress, Obama could still sign an executive order requiring that federal contractors not discriminate based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Hopes were high that he would address either ENDA or an executive order in his State of the Union, but he did not specifically mention either.
In the Senators’ letter, they describe the executive order as “a matter of basic fairness”:
Issuing an Executive Order that includes sexual orientation and gender identity is a critical step that you can take today toward ending discrimination in the workplace. According to the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law, prohibiting federal contractors from discriminating based on sexual orientation and gender identity would extend equal workplace rights to more than 16 million workers, and would help ensure that they are not forced into the ranks of the unemployed based solely on their sexual orientation or gender identity. But doing so would also serve another important purpose, one that is always on our minds as appropriators of American’s taxpayer dollars, namely, making the most efficient use of federal government resources. […]
Of course, making this important change is also a matter of basic fairness. Unfortunately, there are many examples of why issuing an Executive Order is so critically needed. Despite advances in many American workplaces, rates of discrimination against LGBT people remain high. Research shows that up to 43 percent of LGB people and 90 percent of transgender people report having experienced some form of workplace discrimination.
The Obama administration has claimed that it would prefer a legislation option, but has not explained why it refuses to act on the executive order.