On July 21, 2014, President Barack Obama signed an executive order protecting employees of federal contractors and the federal government from sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination. The text of the executive order is available here.

With the Employment Non-Discrimination Act having stalled in Congress for now, there is currently no federal statute protecting all employees from sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination. President Obama’s executive order fills this void somewhat by covering employees of federal contractors, roughly one fifth of the United States workforce, and employees of the federal government.

The executive order amends two orders issued by previous administrations. President Lyndon B. Johnson banned discrimination by federal contractors based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin with executive order 11246. President George W. Bush later amended executive order 11246 to permit contractors with religious affiliations to prefer workers of their own faith for religious positions. Executive order 11478, signed by President Richard Nixon and later amended by President William Clinton, banned discrimination by the federal government based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, handicap, age, or sexual orientation.

President Obama’s executive order amends these prior orders to include a prohibition on sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination. Importantly, the executive order does not include any additional carve outs or exemptions for federal contractors with religious affiliations, as some religious leaders had requested. It does, however, leave intact the limited exemption for religiously affiliated federal contractors ordered by President George W. Bush.

The executive order requires the Secretary of Labor to prepare regulations implementing the provisions covering federal contractors by October 19, 2014. Check this blog regularly for any updates on the regulations.