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Tuesday, May 28, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Obama Fumbled Gay Rights, Groups Say

(CN) - The Center for American Progress and other rights groups have condemned President Barack Obama's refusal to sign an executive order barring government contractors from discriminating against gay, lesbian and transgender workers.

Companies that contract with the government have not been able to discriminate based on race, color, sex, religion or national origin since President Lyndon B. Johnson issued an order against it in 1965. The language of that order had no protections stopping companies from firing workers based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

In a press conference, White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters that Obama hoped to address these gaps on the legislative level through the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, or ENDA.

Carney compared this strategy to the one that ultimately led to the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," which banned openly gay soldiers from serving in the military.

"I would make the comparison here that pursuing that strategy, the passage of ENDA, the Employee Non-Discrimination Act, is very similar to the approach the President took to the legislative repeal of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell.," Carney said.

Jeff Krehely, the vice president for LGBT Research and Communication for the Center for American Progress, shared his understanding of the White House's strategy, in a phone interview with the Courthouse News Service.

"There was some talk of the White House pushing for the visibility of the issue, really defining the problem in the public's mind," Krehely said, adding that the White House would probably engage the business community to build political support.

But he doubted these measures would succeed in getting the bill passed.

"From my perspective, I don't see ENDA as a viable piece of legislation anytime soon," Krehely said.

Asked about the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" comparison, Krehely replied that he would remind Carney that Obama used executive authority to lessen the impact of that law to build momentum leading to its repeal.

The same day Carney explained that Obama would not issue the anti-bias order, the White House issued a press release announcing an executive order aimed at preventing waste and fraud in filing taxes.

According to the press release, "The Do Not Pay tool will prevent the kind of payment errors that have occurred in government for too long, such as sending funds out to dead people or entering into contracts with companies who have attempted to defraud the government."

In his first term, the Obama administration has issued many such orders, with the branding "We Can't Wait."

Krehely said that ending workplace discrimination deserves the same urgency.

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