Earlier today, President Obama signed an executive order to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people from workplace discrimination at businesses that contract with the federal government. This was not unexpected, but it is still well worth noting, especially in the context of the blog I posted last week.
In that post, I wrote about the ACLU’s withdrawal of support for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), a bill that also addresses workplace discrimination, but with one key difference: ENDA presently includes a provision that would allow religiously affiliated employers to continue to discriminate based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
President Obama’s action today is notable because it does NOT include such a religious exemption that would have allowed government contractors a special license to discriminate against LGBT people using taxpayer dollars. The president had been heavily pressed by some religious leaders in the preceding weeks for an exemption from his forthcoming executive order, but with today’s announcement we know for sure that he did not succumb to the pressure.
Today’s executive order is an exciting step forward, but to be clear, it only applies to federal contractors, not all employers. The need for a non-flawed version of ENDA is just as real today as it was last week, as is the absurdity of a patchwork set of workplace discrimination rules whereby a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity might matter in one state but not another and could keep them from getting a job with one type of employer but not with another.
The slow trickle of progress added another victory today, but the need for asterisk-free legislation is still just as strong. Let’s hope legislators take the president’s lead on this issue and produce a solution that ends workplace discrimination once and for all - not just for certain states or certain types of employers, but for everyone.