Nearly 200 congressional Democrats have signed onto a letter to President Obama urging him to sign an executive order requiring federal contractors not to discriminate against LGBT people. Quoting Obama himself, the Senators and Representatives remind the President that “now is the time to end this kind of discrimination, not enable it”:
As we continue to work towards the final passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) with strong bipartisan support, we urge you to take action now to protect millions of workers across teh country from the threat of discrimination simply because of who they are or who they love. We are committed to doing all that we can in Congress to get ENDA to your desk this year; however, there is no reason you cannot immediately act by taking this important step. This executive order would provide LGBT people with another avenue in the federal government they could turn to if they were the victim of employment discrimination by a federal contractor. When combined with ENDA, these non-discrimination protections would parallel those that have been in place for decades on the basis of race, sex, and religion.
The proposed executive order, which the White House describes as “hypothetical” despite internal reports that it has previously been drafted, has been an issue of contention with the administration for nearly three years. Despite a campaign pledge then-candidate Obama made in 2007 to issue such an order, his administration’s standard response is that it prefers a legislative solution (ENDA), even though House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has insisted no such vote will take place this year. This principle contradicts a similar step Obama recently took, using an executive order to increase the minimum wage for employees of federal contractors in lieu of waiting for Congress to act.
As the letter points out, however, the two are not mutually exclusive. Even if ENDA passes, the executive order would still be an important step, because it would protect LGBT employees at the many small businesses that are exempt under ENDA.
This is not the first time congressional Democrats have urged the President to act, but it is the largest group to have signed onto such a letter. Among those who signed were 47 Senators (up by 10 since last February’s letter) and 148 Representatives (up by 38 since last year). Noticeably absent from the letter are Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) — who will send her own letter — and Democratic National Committee Chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL).
It remains legal to fire people for their sexual orientation in 29 states and for their gender identity in 33 states.