Thursday, April 12, 2012

Employment Discrimination and Gay Rights

With the recent victories in a variety of states regarding same sex marriage, and the apparent support of the current administration, the push towards more expansive rights for homosexuals seemed promising. While much work remains to be done in establishing equal rights and protects for homosexuals, the necessary support for progress seemed in place. However, the New York Times yesterday published an article stating that President Obama has decided not to sign an Executive Order protecting homosexuals from discrimination by employers with federal contracts.

“Current law does not protect against discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, and legislation to do so, which Mr. Obama endorses, lacks sufficient votes in Congress.” Previously, President Obama has issued Executive Orders regarding several issues which he asserted that “we can’t wait” for passage by the Republican-dominated Congress. Supporters of gay rights assert that gay, bisexual and transgender people, to whom such an Executive Order would apply, have a right to be protected from employment discrimination based on their sexual orientation and believe that the “we can’t wait” for Congress to ensure protection of this right. Instead, the article reports that an administration official has stated that, “We support legislation that has been introduced and we will continue to work with Congressional sponsors to build support for it.”

President Obama has not yet publicly endorsed same sex marriage, but he has been a proponent of initiatives such as repealing the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. The President also continues to advocate for “an inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which would prohibit employers across the country from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.” However, it is unlikely that the current Republican-led Congress will pass any such Bills which would add gender identification or sexual orientation to the list of classes protected from employment discrimination. It surely seems that this is exactly the type of policy that falls under President Obama’s “we can’t wait” drive, and yet the President is taking the wait-and-see approach.

Admittedly there may be many other legitimate reasons for not issuing the Executive Order at this time. All that is certain is that gay, bisexual and transgendered people should not be subject to employment discrimination based on their gender identity or sexual orientation and it is unlikely that such protections will be afforded to these groups as promptly as they should be.

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