Major news sources are reporting that President Barack Obama plans to issue an executive order prohibiting federal contractors from discriminating against employees based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The specific details of the executive order have not been finalized and the signing date is not yet known. The planned order was revealed by administration officials on Monday, June 16, 2014, just before the President attends a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) event sponsored by the Democratic National Committee in New York City on Tuesday.
For twenty years, various federal lawmakers have introduced and tried to pass ENDA, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation by all employers with 15 or more employees. The most recent ENDA bill passed in the Senate but is dead in the House, as House Speaker John Boehner reportedly has said he will not allow the bill to come to a vote. Like it has done with its minimum wage and other pay initiatives that stalled in Congress, the White House is furthering its goals for U.S. workers outside the legislative process by issuing an executive order. Although the executive order applies only to federal contractors, many of whom already have policies prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation, the prohibition for contractors on this basis is seen as a step toward protection for LGBT workers in all work contexts.
Hearing word of the impending executive order, lawmakers and various groups appear to be urging the administration to include an exemption for religious reasons. That is unlikely to happen with the executive order but until we see the final order, it is unclear if any federal contractors and subcontractors will be exempt.