The LGBT community scored huge victories last week in Maine, Maryland and Washington, winning the freedom to marry. But the marriage debate can suck the oxygen out of the room when it comes to other pressing issues, because it is exciting and salient. Marriage viscerally resonates in a way that other things do not. Marriage matters, but nondiscrimination policies in public accommodations, housing and employment matter, too.
The president supports marriage equality, and the LGBT community should be grateful for having an ally in the White House. The president rightfully also supports the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which would ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity by employers with 15 or more employees.
It is a disgrace that anyone can be fired in 2012 because they are openly gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. Local, state and federal elected officials must take swift action to prohibit discrimination in the workplace. But the political reality is that on the federal level ENDA isn't going to be passed until either Republicans support it or Democrats take control of the House of Representatives.
However, President Obama can issue an executive order banning discrimination by federal contractors on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. The White House punted on the issue in the spring, suggesting that they wanted a legislative solution. Presumably, they hoped that they could retake the House and pass ENDA.
Federal contractors employ about 26 million people. Many federal contractors already prohibit employment discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, but 16.5 million people work for federal contractors that do not.
Enough is enough.
Mr. President, the time for action is now. There is no election on the horizon. As long as John Boehner is Speaker of the House, there is little hope of seeing ENDA become law. There is no constitutional hurdle stopping you from issuing an executive order banning discrimination against LGBT employees by federal contractors.
There is no reason to embrace the more controversial aspects of the LGBT rights movement, like marriage equality, only to sidestep widely supported principles of employment nondiscrimination. No one should be discriminated against in any workplace, but employers accepting taxpayer money certainly should not discriminate.
This administration ended "don't ask, don't tell," refused to defend the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, guaranteed hospital visitation rights for same-sex couples and is promoting LGBT rights abroad. For this, the LGBT community is appreciative, but it is high time that the president do what is right, seize his electoral mandate and swiftly ban discrimination against federal contractors' LGBT employees.