President Barack Obama may sign an executive order to ban discrimination against lesbian, gay and transgender federal workers in the near future, but Republican leaders in the House of Representatives are still standing in the way of a bill that extends those protections to all employees.
Despite the fact the Employment Non-Discrimination Act passed the Senate with Republican votes last November, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, still refuses to bring ENDA to the House floor for a vote. Boehner has called the bill “unnecessary” and said it “would provide a basis for frivolous lawsuits.”
The president exhibited Monday, he's willing to play hardball to force House leaderships' hands, but Boehner didn't appear to budge. His office said Monday, the speaker’s position remains unchanged.
“People are already protected in the workplace,” Boehner has said.
Employment discrimination remains a key concern for LGBT advocates, even as public opinion on gay rights has evolved dramatically in recent years. While same-sex marriage has taken the spotlight, in 29 states, people can still be fired for being gay. In 32 states people can be fired for identifying as transgender.
So far, 10 Republicans in the Senate and eight Republicans in the House are on the record trying to change that.
The president’s engagement on the issue, however, could complicate their efforts. Republicans have long criticized Obama for using executive orders to bypass Congress. With the president stepping out ahead of Congress, some leaders in the House may become more entrenched.
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, who has supported ENDA since 2002, says the president’s decision to draft an executive order is a step, but she emphasizes it still does not give Republican leaders in the House the right to abdicate their role in the discussion.
“This executive order cannot be nearly as comprehensive as a law would be,” says Collins, in an emailed statement to U.S. News. “That is why I urge the House to consider the Senate passed bill promptly so it can be signed into law by the president. All Americans deserve a fair opportunity to pursue the American dream and to be free of unfair discrimination in the workplace.”
Gregory Angelo, the executive director for Log Cabin Republicans, a conservative group that advocates for LGBT rights, agrees that the president’s executive order is just a piece of the puzzle.
“Had Log Cabin Republicans and other advocates not held the president's feet to the fire, this executive order may never have come,” Angelo says. “This executive order is a good thing, but a campaign promise delivered 5-and-a-half years late – on the eve of a Democrat LGBT fundraiser, no less – isn't exactly worthy of massive celebration.”
Yet, he says, if anything, the order cannot be used as an excuse for Congress not to act.
“Of all the executive orders. This is and should have been the least controversial of them all,” Angelo says.