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Topics In the News
Democratic Legislators Urge Executive Order Prohibiting Employment Discrimination
Posted by: Claude J. Summers on 03/18/14
Last updated on: 03/19/14
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Sen. Ed Markey is among those urging the Obama administration to act.

On March 18, 2014, 195 Democratic legislators called upon President Obama to issue an executive order forbidding discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity by federal contractors. In a letter signed by 147 members of the House of Representatives and 47 Senators, the legislators urged President Obama to take administrative action in light of the fact that Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner has refused to allow the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) to be voted on in the House. The legislation, which was passed in the U.S. Senate in November 2013 on a bipartisan vote of 64-32, has since languished in the House. It is believed that there is sufficient support in the House for the bill to pass, but Speaker Boehner has announced his vociferous opposition to it.

As Chris Johnson reports in the Washington Blade, the call for an executive order was not only signed by an unprecedented number of legislators, but the signatories also included members of the House Democratic leadership.

The letter, dated March 18, 2014, urges Obama to sign an executive order barring federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity as part of his plan for a "Year of Action" in 2014.

"As we continue to work towards final passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) with strong bipartisan support, we urge you to take action now to protect millions of workers across the country from the threat of discrimination simply because of who they are or who they love," the letter says. "We are committed to doing all that we can in Congress to get ENDA to your desk this year; however, there is no reason you cannot immediately act by taking this important step."

The letter says "time is of an essence" because even after an executive order is signed, it "will take many months, if not longer" to implement the directive.

In the House, the letter was circulated by the LGBT Equality Caucus, chaired by Representative Jared Polis of Colorado, along with Representatives Frank Pallone of New Jersey and Lois Capps of California; while in the Senate ENDA's chief sponsor Jeff Merkley of Oregon, along with Senators Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin and Tom Harkin of Iowa, circulated the letter.

In 2011, Pallone and Capps led the effort on behalf of a similar letter, which at the time was signed by 72 House members. In 2013, they circulated another letter on the issue signed by 110 House members and Merkley submitted a letter signed by 37 senators.

But, as Johnson notes, the March 18 letter has more lawmakers calling for the executive order than the 2013 letter and, for the first time, has members of the Democratic leadership as signatories: House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland and Assistant Minority Leader Jim Clyburn of South Carolina.

Although House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has repeatedly said she supports an executive order, she did not sign the letter. Drew Hammill, a Pelosi spokesperson, said Representative Pelosi rarely signs group letters and would raise the issue in a private conversation with the President.

Also missing from the letter is Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, who expressed his support for an executive order in January. Reid's office indicated that he does not typically sign member letters.

Not a single Republican signed the letter. Although 10 Republicans voted for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act in November and 6 Republicans are co-sponsors of ENDA in the House, none of them signed the letter urging an executive order.

President Obama has previously deflected requests for an executive order by reiterating his support for ENDA.

Tico Almeida, president of Freedom to Work, said he hopes that President Obama will issue the order. "It's long past time for President Obama to keep his word and create LGBT workplace protections at the companies that profit from taxpayer-funded contracts."

Senator Merkley said that an executive order would help ensure that glbtq people have access to equal opportunity in the workplace. "There is no reason to wait any longer to extend non-discrimination policies to federal contractors and protect millions of Americans from being fired for who they are or who they love."

Representative Capps said in a statement that she hopes Obama "will immediately sign an executive order" to protect glbtq workers against discrimination. "Doing so would be a significant and meaningful advancement for LGBT Americans--legally, politically, and culturally. With workers across the country facing discrimination every day, the time is now to make sure workplace discrimination isn't supported by taxpayer funds."

Capps added that she has been pushing Obama to sign the executive order for years and that it is now time for the President to act.

Thanks to Towleroad, the full letter and its signatures may be found here.

During the debate on ENDA in the Senate, Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts spoke forcefully in favor of its passage, recalling not only his own perennial support for the bill but that when the legislation was first introduced in 1994 two Massachusetts legislators, Representative Gerry Studds and Senator Ted Kennedy, were leading sponsors.

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