Democratic Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa called on President Obama once again to sign an executive order banning discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity among federal contractors. Activists have pressured the White House on the issue for much of this year, because getting the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) passed in Congress is nearly impossible with Republicans in control of the House, but the Obama administration has steadfastly rebuffed pleas to sign the order.
"Absolutely, he should [sign the order]," Harkin said on my SiriusXM OutQ radio program at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte last week. "A number of us have written him a letters about this, that he should sign it. I mean, federal contractors, people who contract with the federal government, and use taxpayer money, should not be allowed to discriminated on the basis of sexual preference or sexual orientation. So, I think the president should sign that. And we're going to continue to put the pressure on him to do so."
Harkin, chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, has spearheaded the effort to get ENDA passed, having held hearings in the Senate back in June.
"I'm not going to give up on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act," he said. "It's a civil rights issue. I know we can't get it this year because of Republican opposition, but I'll be there next year. We'll have Barack Obama as president. I believe we'll still have a majority in the Senate and I'm going to continue to bring it up. We're not going to sit back on it. And quite frankly, I think we have a lot of employers in this country that would like to see something like this pass. Right now, a lot of employers are caught in a crossfire on this. If they have ENDA, it frees them up. All I can tell you is, we're not giving up."
On marriage equality, on which his state of Iowa has led the way, Harkin said it was only matter of time before it came to every state.
"Look," he said, "marriage equality is really the civil rights issue of our time and that time has come. I think more and more people are saying, 'Yes, time to put that behind us.' We did that in Iowa. Yeah, there's always some who want to turn the clock back. Heck, I bet you can find people today who would like to to turn back the Civil Rights Act of the 1965. They want to get rid of the Voting Rights Act. There's always people like that. but I think the great bulk of Americans would just as soon say, 'That's history, we're beyond that.'"
Listen to the full interview: