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Congress Steps Up Pressure On Obama To Sign ENDA Executive Order

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Chip Somodevilla via Getty Images
Chip Somodevilla via Getty Images

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. -- Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) and Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) are circulating a letter among their Senate colleagues that calls on President Barack Obama to issue an executive order extending workplace nondiscrimination protections to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans.

"We are writing to urge you to fulfill the promise in your State of the Union address to make this a 'year of action' and build upon the momentum of 2013 by signing an executive order banning federal contractors from engaging in employment discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Americans. As you have said before, 'now is the time to end this kind of discrimination, not enable it,'" reads the letter, which was provided to The Huffington Post.

According to Merkley's office, the effort is bicameral; the LGBT equality caucus is recruiting co-signers in the House of Representatives.

Obama has the ability to ban discrimination among government contractors only, whereas legislation passed by Congress would apply to all employers. Although the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, sponsored by Merkley, has passed the Senate, it doesn't appear to be going anywhere in the House.

That lack of movement is why Merkley, Baldwin and Harkin believe Obama should step in.

"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," reads the letter. "This executive order would provide LGBT people with another avenue in the federal government they could turn to if they were the victim of employment discrimination by a federal contractor. When combined with ENDA, these non-discrimination protections would parallel those that have been in place for decades on the basis of race, sex and religion."

Last year, 37 senators signed onto a letter asking Obama to sign an executive order, and this year's version will likely pick up at least that much support, if not more.

An executive order could protect as many as 16 million contractors. Right now, it is legal in 33 states for an employer to fire or harass someone for being LGBT.

Many LGBT equality advocates were disappointed when Obama, in his State of the Union speech, did not even mention ENDA or the possibility of executive action.

When asked about the omission in January, White House spokesman Shin Inouye said the State of the Union address wasn't meant to be "a comprehensive list of all of the President’s positions or priorities" and that Obama still wanted Congress to pass the bill.

Labor Secretary Tom Perez said last month that the administration was continuing to look at the the possibility of Obama signing an executive order.

The White House did not immediately return a request for comment on the new letter.

The President
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave, NW
Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. President,

We are writing to urge you to fulfill the promise in your State of the Union address to make this a “year of action” and build upon the momentum of 2013 by signing an executive order banning federal contractors from engaging in employment discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Americans. As you have said before, “now is the time to end this kind of discrimination, not enable it.”

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 protection millions of workers across the country from the threat of discrimination simply because of who they are or who they love. 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. This executive order would provide LGBT people with another avenue in the federal government they could turn to if they were the victim of employment discrimination by a federal contractor. When combined with ENDA, these non-discrimination protections would parallel those that have been in place for decades on the basis of race, sex and religion.

An executive order covering LGBT employees would be in line with a bipartisan, decades-long commitment to eradicating taxpayer-funded discrimination in the workplace. In 1941, President Roosevelt prohibited discrimination in defense contracts on the bases of race, creed, color, or national origin. In subsequent executive orders, Presidents Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson expanded these protections to ensure that taxpayer dollars are not used to discriminate.

In addition, most of the largest government contractors – companies like Boeing, Raytheon, and Lockheed Martin – have LGBT non-discrimination policies in place. They adopted them because business leaders recognize that discrimination is bad for the bottom line.

Finally, time is of the essence. Even with an executive order in place, full implementation of these protections will require regulations to be developed and finalized, a process that will take many months, if not longer, to fully put in place.

Issuing an executive order prohibiting discrimination against LGBT workers in federal contracts would build on the significant progress for LGBT rights made during your time as President and would further your legacy as a champion for LGBT equality. We urge you to act now to prevent irrational, taxpayer-funded workplace discrimination against LGBT Americans.

This article was updated after publication to reflect the involvement of Sens. Baldwin and Harkin in the effort.

HuffPost Readers: Have you been fired, harassed, or discriminated against at work because of your sexual orientation or gender identity? If you're interested in sharing your story, please email us at openreporting@huffingtonpost.com, or call 860-348-3376 to leave a voicemail describing your situation.

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