After a weeks-long delay, President Barack Obama will sign an executive order Monday barring federal contractors from discriminating against workers on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, according to White House.
The White House had been pressed religious groups to exclude faith-based institutions -- such as universities, hospitals and nursing homes -- from the executive order, but officials say they will only include a minor existing exemption that gay rights groups did not oppose.
“We're so proud today of the decision made by the Obama Administration to resist the calls by a small number of right-wing conservatives to insert religious exemptions into civil rights protections,” said Heather Cronk, director of GetEQUAL.
Obama will sign a pair of existing executive orders for federal employees and contractors. He will keep in place a 2002 order signed by George W. Bush, which allows contractors to favor people of their same religion for religious roles.
“This decision is good for LGBT people, good for our economy and good for America,” said Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. “It also speaks volumes about President Obama’s resolve to end discrimination in all its guises.”
More than 150 conservative religious groups and leaders sent a letter to Obama on June 25 saying that “any executive order that does not fully protect religious freedom will face widespread opposition and will further fragment our nation.” Another group of leaders, many with close ties to the president, wrote him July 1 to ask that “an extension of protection for one group not come at the expense of faith communities whose religious identity and beliefs motivate them to serve those in need.”
Recently, some gay rights groups withdrew support for legislation that would ban discrimination in the workplace based on sexual orientation because they fear the inclusion of broad religious exemptions. The Employment Non-Discrimination Act passed the Democratic-controlled U.S. Senate but has stalled in the Republican-led House of Representatives.
It’s legal to fire or to refuse employment to someone based on sexual orientation in 29 states, while 32 states lack explicit laws banning discrimination based on gender identity, according to the Human Rights Campaign, an LGBT advocacy group.
The executive order will apply only to companies that contract with the federal government, but the Human Rights Campaign said those businesses employed more than 20 percent of the American workforce _ 28 million people _ and collected around $500 billion in federal contracts every year.
The president had long resisted issuing an order because he said he wanted Congress to pass legislation. After years of inaction on Capitol Hill and intense lobbying by gay rights groups, he decided to act.