There are no religious exemptions in the executive order President Obama signed this morning in a formal ceremony at the White House. From this day forward, no federal contractor, no matter how religious he claims to be, will be allowed to discriminate against an employee because of sexual orientation or gender identity.
Today President Obama amended Executive Order 11246, which already prohibits federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin, by adding sexual orientation and gender identity to the order.
Today President Obama amended Executive Order 11478 prohibiting discrimination in the federal civilian workplace, which already includes sexual orientation, to include gender identity.”
Saying “Our government - government of the people, by the people and for the people - will become just a little bit fairer,” President Obama set strong new standards for federal contractors, which employ 20 percent of the American workforce. Under these executive orders, an estimated 14 million more American workers will be now be protected from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
The Human Rights Campaign reports that the manner in which the White House chose to extend LGBT workplace protections will make them very difficult for a future administration to reverse:
In the part that applies to federal contractors, the Obama administration declined to create a separate carve-out or standard for LGBT employees. Instead, the President elected to narrowly amend Executive Order 11246, first signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1965—placing sexual orientation and gender identity on equal footing with race, color, religion, sex and national origin, and thus making these protections virtually politically impossible for a future administration to undo.
Fears that the president would include a religious exemption that would allow federal contractors to excuse their discrimination toward LGBT workers proved unfounded. Though more than 140 religious leaders requested an exemption, the White House declined to include one.
The Rev. Fred Davie, Executive Vice President at Union Theological Seminary, who was a guest at the signing this morning, declared the lack of a religious exemption a great victory:
“This is a tremendous victory for those of us who believe that as people of faith we should be exemplary, not exempted. Religions of the world across the ages have engendered and supported discrimination and bigotry from deceptively genteel to utterly horrific. We have also sacrificed our very lives for our neighbors in response to God’s radical and unrelenting call to love others as much as we love ourselves.”
In response to the executive order, HRC president Chad Griffin issued the following statement:
“With this action, President Obama has cemented his legacy as a transformative leader. Consistently, this administration has taken unprecedented and historic executive actions to advance LGBT equality in this country and around the world.”