Congressional Democrats have once again pressured President Obama to issue an executive order that would prohibit federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Today, 110 members of the House, led by Reps. Frank Pallone (D-NH) and Jared Polis (D-CO), signed a letter urging Obama not to delay the order any longer, regardless of the potential for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) to pass:
OUr request begins with a simple premise. It is unacceptable that it remains legal to fire or refuse to hire someone based on his or her sexual orientation or gender identity. Federal law continues to allow this and discrimination based on sexual orientation is legal in 29 states and discrimination because of gender identity is legal in 34 states. Action at the federal level can put a stop to these unfair and discriminatory workplace practices in every state. [...]
Executive Order 11246, signed by President Lyndon Johnson in 1965 and subsequently amendment, prohibits federal contractors from discriminating against employees based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin. The executive order gave millions important workplace protections and to this day continues to stand as an important protection that is enforced by the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs at the Department of Labor. According to the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law, an executive order prohibiting federal contractors from discriminating based on sexual orientation and gender identity would protect more than 16 million additional workers.
Last year, 72 Representatives sent a similar letter, as did 37 Senators last month. Despite a campaign pledge to sign such an order, Obama has avoided doing so, claiming he would prefer the legislative solution of ENDA. But even if ENDA were to pass (which it likely won’t while the House is Republican-controlled), an executive order would still be needed to protect employees in businesses with less than 15 employees. It was rumored Obama might use the State of the Union to speak out for nondiscrimination protections, but he did not.
It remains unclear what the Obama administration gains by continuing to deny these protections to the LGBT community.