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Gay rights advocates: Executive order would outlaw discrimination

California is among 21 states where discrimination against employees based on sexual orientation is illegal. However, if you work for a federal contractor and your job takes you to a state without such protections, you can find yourself the victim of discrimination. That's why advocates for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are pushing President Obama to take action to deal with this problem.

LGBT rights advocates note that this is something the president can do simply by signing an executive order. According to the White House, the reason the president hasn't signed an executive order is that he wants Congress to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would offer much broader protections.

The current version of ENDA, which passed easily in the Senate, would prohibit any company with at least 15 employees from discriminating against people based on sexual orientation. However, passage of ENDA doesn't seem likely in the House of Representatives. Speaker of the House John Boehner has said he has no intention of even allowing the bill to be voted on.

Some political experts say that President Obama is hesitant to use executive orders too often. Having faced a recalcitrant Congress, he's used that presidential prerogative on more than one occasion to accomplish goals he couldn't via legislation. However, as a Brookings Institution senior fellow pointed out, this does nothing to help an already difficult relationship with lawmakers. He says, "The more he does with the stroke of a pen, the angrier Congress gets and the harder, potentially, it is to pass legislation."

Nonetheless, LGBT rights advocates argue that an executive order may be the only way such discrimination can be ended. The executive order they are seeking is based on one signed by President Johnson nearly 50 years ago. That order banned discrimination based on race by federal contractors.

Even where there are legal protections in place against workplace discrimination, such as here in California, there is no guarantee that employers will adhere to them. Anyone who believes they have been discriminated against based on sexual orientation or their gender identity can and should seek legal advice to help protect their own rights and the rights of others.

Source: The Los Angeles Times, "Gay rights groups press Obama for anti-discrimination order" Timothy M. Phelps, Mar. 14, 2014

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