US President Barack Obama has chosen Monday (21 July) as the day he will make good on his promise to sign an executive order to prohibit discrimination against LGBTI employees.
The order will apply to an estimated 28 million people – one-fifth of the US workforce – who work for federal contractors and the federal government.
‘President Obama is showing strong leadership taking this historic action to advance equality in our country,’ said US Senator from Wisconsin Tammy Baldwin, the first lesbian member of the Senate.
Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin also applauded Obama’s plan and said in a statement: ‘These actions from the President have the potential to be a keystone in the arch of his administration’s progress, and they send a powerful message to future administrations and to Congress that anti-LGBT discrimination must not be tolerated.’
The Washington Blade reports that Obama plans to amend existing executive orders barring discrimination against workers to include protections on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
Obama’s action is taking place as the US House of Representatives continues to stall the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) already passed by the US Senate.
ENDA has lost the support of several leading LGBTI organizations because it has an exemption for religious groups. The executive order does not include a religious exemption but there is already an order in place, signed by George W. Bush, that allows religious-affiliated federal contractors to discriminate on the basis of religion.
‘You can use religion to only hire people who share your religion, but you can’t discriminate against somebody who is of your faith who happens to be LGBT, unless they fall within the ministerial exemption,’ The Blade quotes senior officials as saying.
Obama has pointed out that the majority of Fortune 500 companies already have non-discrimination policies to protect their employees. He has said it is the right thing to do could help to retain and attract the best talent.
He said at a White House reception celebrating LGBTI pride on 1 July: ‘ … If Congress won’t act, I will. I have directed my staff to prepare an executive order for my signature that prohibits discrimination by federal contractors on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. And I’ve asked my staff to prepare a second executive order so that federal employees – who are already protected on the basis of sexual orientation – will now formally be protected from discrimination based on gender identity as well.’
Obama is the first US president to publicly come out in support of same-sex marriage.