President Obama has made good on another pro-equality policy promise. Today, he amended a standing executive order to prohibit federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation. Instead of creating a new nondiscrimination rule with an unnecessary and broad religious exemption, the President simply added the words “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to the list of impermissible bases for discrimination. (Technically, more than these four words were added, but you get the idea.). The amendments also explicitly ban discrimination against federal employees on the basis of “gender identity.”
LGBT advocates have been clamoring for this kind of action for some time. Several years ago, many activists pushed Congress to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), a broad nondiscrimination law that would have covered more than just federal contractors. The law passed the Senate with every Democrat and only a handful of Republican votes, but had no future in the Republican-controlled House. Even worse, the draft bill included a broad religious exemption that has recently inspired several LGBT organizations, including the ACLU, the Gay & Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, Lambda Legal, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, and the Transgender Law Center, to withdraw their support for the bill. Now, our progressive allies are loathe to touch it.
Knowing that Republican House Speaker John Boehner was never going to bring a nondiscrimination bill to the floor, many advocates demanded that the President sign an executive order instead. And from now on, if a company wants to receive a federal contract, it must sign a pledge that it does not discrimination against gays.
That is great news, but the legal landscape after the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby makes this story more complicated. If a private, for-profit company now has permission to discriminate against women because its owners’ religion tells it to, one wonders if a similar company who wants a federal contract could use the same religious exemption to opt out of equal treatment of gays. AFTER THE JUMP, I discuss the executive order and the questions raised by Hobby Lobby.
CONTINUED, AFTER THE JUMP...