How Will President Obama's LGBT Executive Order Change Things? Your Questions, Answered
President Obama has made good on his pledge to use his powers to get around congressional gridlock, and on Monday, it was to the benefit of America's LGBT population. In the Oval Office Monday, Obama signed an executive order banning anti-LGBT discrimination by federal contractors Monday. Basically, it gives LGBT employees of those contractors the same workplace protections that the Democrats' Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) would've give American workers on a much larger scale. That is, if the Republican Party were willing to pass it, which they've made it pretty clear they aren't.
Basically, it's sort of a half-measure by Obama. The provisions of his executive order are far short of what Democrats envisioned in backing ENDA in the Senate, but it's still a vital shift in federal policy. As Human Rights Campaign president Chad Griffin said, according to The Washington Post: "With the strokes of a pen, the president will have a very real and immediate impact on the lives of millions of LGBT people across the country."
So, what exactly does the signing of this new executive order — which, if you'll remember, is precisely the practice that Republicans are trying to sue Obama over — mean for the country going forward?
What Does the Order Say?
It's actually a handful of amendments to existing rules, put into effect by the Johnson administration in the 1960s. In 1965, as the Washington Post's Jonathan Capehart details, President Johnson signed an executive order banning discrimination on the grounds of religion, race, national origin and skin color for all federal employees, and two years later he amended it to include sex.
Obama's latest amendments go even further, adding two crucial specifications to that list — "sexual orientation" and "gender identity."
The former provides protection from discrimination for homosexual federal employees, long enough overdue in itself. But the latter is even more impressive, politically speaking — the inclusion of gender identity means the oft-overlooked "T" on the end of LGBT will actually be getting its due attention this time.
When Will it Take Effect?
The order states that within 90 days of its signing — that'd be October 19, for those of you counting — U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez will prepare the regulations necessary to ensure this gets done.
Of course, even in 2014, don't expect this to go unchallenged. As mentioned, the GOP is already talking up a lawsuit over Obama's executive orders, and in the post-Hobby Lobby world, some federal contractors will continue to argue they should have a religious exemption from the new rules.
Who Will it Affect?
Anybody who might have suffered workplace discrimination on the grounds of their sexual orientation or gender identity while serving as a federal contractor. As the Washington Post points out, this is a broader swath of the general public than you might realize — some 24,000 companies fall under this designation, accounting for about 28 million employees nationwide.
There are certainly people who'd like to not be affected by this. Some religious leaders actually lobbied the White House for an exemption to be written into the new text, but they failed. There is still a faith-related amendment to the original rules in the order, however, imposed by the Bush administration in 2002. It allows religiously-affiliated employers to favor members of faiths over other prospective employees.
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