On Monday, President Obama signed an executive order, promised a month ago, that will prohibit federal contractors from discriminating based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
“America’s federal contracts should not subsidize discrimination against the American people,” Obama said before signing the order. “I’m going to do what I can with the authority I have to act.”
The administration had been waiting to see if Congress would pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), but it has stalled in the House after passing the Senate with a bipartisan supermajority.
The executive order will amend two earlier orders, one signed by Lyndon Johnson that prohibits federal contractors from discriminating based on race, sex, color, religion, or national origin, and another by Richard Nixon that extends such protections to government employees.
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Obama did not bow to pressure from religious leaders to include a broad religious exemption, which ENDA did contain. In the wake of the Hobby Lobby Supreme Court decision that granted religious freedoms to corporations, LGBT groups had revoked their support for ENDA because they feared it could be used broadly to discriminate if an employer of a for-profit corporation has religious objections to homosexuality.
The president let stand language added to Johnson’s order by George W. Bush in 2002, which allows religiously affiliated federal contractors to favor members of their own faith in hiring decisions.
The act will affect about 30,000 companies employing 28 million people, or one-fifth of the U.S. work force.