[JURIST] US President Barack Obama [official website] on Monday signed an executive order [text; fact sheet] barring federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. The order also explicitly bans discrimination against transgender employees of the federal government. The order does not include [USA Today report] a religious-based exception despite pressure from some religious leaders following the US Supreme Court [official website] decision [opinion, PDF] in the Hobby Lobby case [JURIST report] in June. It does, however, leave in place a provision from a 2002 executive order signed by then-president George W. Bush [JURIST news archive] that allows religiously affiliated federal contractors to discriminate based on religious beliefs. Although the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission [official website] ruled [JURIST report] in 2012 that transgender discrimination was covered in the federal government’s ban on sex discrimination, many say that the rule has not been enforced and discrimination has continued. This executive order seeks to remedy this shortcoming. Legislation banning employment discrimination of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals, which is still legal in 32 states, passed the Senate last year, but the House of Representatives has not brought the bill up for a vote.
Discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity has recently been a controversial issue in the US. In June a White House official announced [JURIST report] that Obama would sign the LGBT job discrimination bill following a year of pressing Congress to pass such a ban. In November the US Senate approved [JURIST report] the Employment Non-Discrimination Act [text], a bill outlawing workplace discrimination against gay, bisexual and transgender Americans, by a vote of 64 to 32, though the bill has made no progress in the House of Representatives. The US Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee (HELP) [official website] approved a version [JURIST report] of ENDA last July. HELP held a hearing [JURIST report] in June 2012 regarding ENDA, focusing on discrimination faced by LGBT employees across the country. Earlier in June 2012 JURIST Guest Columnist Brynne Madway argued [JURIST op-ed] that the LGBT community must shift some of its focus to promoting anti-discrimination laws, noting that only a small number of states have nondiscrimination laws that include gender identity and sexual orientation. In January of last year the Virginia Senate initially approved legislation [JURIST report] that would prohibit the state government from discriminating against its employees based on sexual orientation.