President Obama was preparing an executive order Monday to prohibit federal contractors from discriminating against individuals based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.
The order will essentially force a bill that was approved in the Senate but hasn’t been taken up in the House, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.
“It is a critical step forward in protecting LGBT workers in the workplace, and a change that I urged the president to make in a letter I signed to him,” said Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.). “In many states, a person can legally be fired or denied a job simply because who they are, or are perceived to be, a gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender individual. This is unfair and wrong.”
In November, House Speaker John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) spokesman said he would not support ENDA because “this legislation will increase frivolous litigation and cost American jobs, especially small-business jobs.”
GOP aides also stressed that protections for gays and lesbians already exist under law.
“Speaker Boehner has refused to bring ENDA to a vote on the House floor,” Smith said today. “I am a cosponsor of ENDA in the House and continue to urge its passage. No one should be denied rights because of who they love, and I will continue to fight for LGBT equality.”
“Following on his pledge for this to be a year of action to expand opportunity for all Americans, the President has directed his staff to prepare for his signature an Executive Order that prohibits federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity,” a White House official told TIME, not clarifying when the executive order would be signed.
“The action would build upon existing protections, which generally prohibit federal contractors and subcontractors from discriminating in employment decisions on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. This is consistent with the President’s views that all Americans, LGBT or not, should be treated with dignity and respect.”
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), an original co-sponsor of ENDA, called Obama’s action “important, and a welcome first step while we wait for the Republican leadership to bring up the Employment Non-Discrimination Act – which passed with strong bipartisan support in the Senate –- for a vote in the House.”
“With the House leadership thus far preventing a vote, it was time to use every avenue available to fight discrimination against LGBT Americans,” Schiff said. “Nevertheless, this does not free Congress from the responsibility to pass ENDA and protect all workers from discrimination and we continue to call for such action.”
Republican supporters of ENDA included Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), who said in November that he voted for the Senate version because “one of the most important constitutionally mandated functions of the federal government is to protect the rights of individuals.”
While Flake had reservations about the bill, which extended protections beyond the 2007 version he supported the House, “I believe supporting this bill is the right thing to do.”
“I am hopeful that the bill moves forward in a way that works for employers as well as employees,” he said.