President Obama signed an Executive Order today that amended two previous Executive Orders signed by Presidents Johnson and Nixon, respectively. Today’s Executive Order will prohibit LGBT federal employment discrimination.
First, today’s Order amended Executive Order Number 11478, signed by President Nixon in 1969 to prohibit employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, handicap or age. Today’s Order added gender identity to the list of protected characteristics for which a federal employee cannot be discriminated against. (Sexual orientation was added in 1998 by President Bill Clinton). This portion of today’s Order takes effect immediately.
Second, today’s Order also amended Executive Order 11246, signed by President Johnson in 1965 prohibiting federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin. Through today’s action, President Obama has now added sexual orientation and gender identity to that list. This portion of today’s Order takes effect early next year.
President Obama did not include a religious exemption to either portion of today’s Executive Order. The addition of such an exemption had been an increasing concern to the LGBT community and its allies following last month’s Hobby Lobby decision. Notably though, President George W. Bush had previously amended Executive Order No. 11246 in 2002 to allow religiously affiliated federal contractors to prioritize hiring employees of their particular religion, and President Obama left that language intact.
It remains lawful in 32 states to suffer adverse employment consequences, up to and including termination and harassment, for being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. The Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which passed the federal Senate during the previous legislative session, would have made such discrimination unlawful. However, Speaker John Boehner refused to bring the bill up for a vote in the House of Representatives. Following the Hobby Lobby decision, most national and local LGBT organizations, the ACLU and other civil rights organizations withdrew their support for the bill due to the fact that the previously agreed to religious exemptions could now be extended to for-profit businesses.