Metro Weekly

Obama calls for continued pressure on Congress to pass ENDA

Photo: Barack Obama. Credit: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza.

Photo: Barack Obama. Credit: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza.

President Barack Obama addressed his decision to sign an executive order prohibiting federal contractors from LGBT workplace discrimination for the first time Tuesday evening, while stating that pressure must continue to be applied to Congress to pass comprehensive federal legislation protecting all workers. 

“We’ve got to keep fighting for equality in the workplace. Right now there are more states that allow same-sex marriage than there are states that prohibit discrimination against LGBT workers. Think about that,” Obama said at the Democratic National Committee’s LGBT Gala in New York City.

“We have laws that say Americans can’t be fired from their jobs because of the color of their skin or for their religion or because of a disability,” Obama continued. “But every day, millions of Americans go to work knowing that they could lose their job, not because of anything they did, but because of who they are. That is not right. It is wrong.”

Noting the passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act with a 64-32 vote last November, Obama chided the Republican-controlled House of Representatives for, “shockingly enough,” refusing to act and bring the bill to the floor for a vote.

“We don’t benefit as a country or an economy — businesses don’t benefit if they’re leaving talent off the field. And that’s why I’ve directed my staff to prepare for my signature, an executive order prohibiting discrimination by federal contractors on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity,” Obama said to a roar of applause from the packed ballroom at Gotham Hall. “Because in the United States of America, who you are and who you love shouldn’t be a fireable offense.”

Obama’s remarks come one day after the White House announced that after years of delay Obama would finally act to prohibit federal contractors from LGBT workplace discrimination — a move long sought by LGBT-rights advocates that builds upon Obama’s legacy as the strongest LGBT ally to ever occupy the White House.  

And although ENDA has continued to gain bipartisan support in the House as recently as last week, it seems increasingly unlikely that it, or other progressive legislation, will move forward in the current Congress. A political operative close to ENDA strategy in the House told Metro Weekly that the surprising primary defeat of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) last week by a tea party challenger “has complicated the landscape and definitely put progressive issues in peril.”

Despite that prognosis, Obama said ENDA supporters must continue to keep pressure on Congress to act.

“It would be better, by the way, if Congress passed a more comprehensive law that didn’t just cover federal contractors,” Obama said Tuesday. “And we need to keep working on that, so don’t take the pressure off Congress. This seems to be a pattern these days. Everybody has just given up so much on Congress that we end up doing something through executive order. And that’s helpful, but it doesn’t reach everybody that needs to be reached. Congress needs to start working again.”

During his remarks Tuesday, Obama did not indicate when he will sign the executive order, although the White House’s annual LGBT Pride Month reception is scheduled for June 30. Speaking to reporters Monday aboard Air Force One, principal deputy White House press secretary Josh Earnest said the specific details of the order have not yet been finalized. LGBT-rights advocates are expected to meet at the White House Thursday to discuss the executive order.

Read Obama’s full remarks on the following page.

Justin Snow is Metro Weekly's former political editor and White House correspondent. Follow him on Twitter @JustinCSnow.