By Stephan Cotner, SIECUS Intern
Update 7/21/2014: President Obama signed the anti-discrimination executive order today—without an exemption for religious groups.
The White House announced on Monday, June 16, 2014, that President Obama is set to sign an executive order prohibiting federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation. This timely announcement, during the annual LGBT pride month and right before the president was to attend a high-profile Democratic National Committee LGBT fundraising gala in New York, has been long awaited by LGBT advocates. The order is intended to build off of current protections that outlaw federal contractors from employment discrimination based on color, national origin, race, religion or sex.
The executive order has been long in the making, having been on file for almost two years. A more recent delay in the signing of the executive order has taken form due to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobbyand pressure from 14 Christian leaders, in the form of a letter, to include a religious exemption in this executive order. Included among these faith leaders is Michael Wear, Obama’s 2012 campaign faith director, Florida “megapastor” Joel Hunter, and other prominent leaders from groups like Catholic Charities USA and World Relief. Countering this new call for an exemption, however, are religiously affiliated organizationsthat do not support a religious exemption, with 100 religious clergy, theologians, and faith leaders voicing their opinion in a letter sent to the presidenton July 8, 2014, arguing that, “if selective exemptions to the executive order were permitted, the people who would suffer most would be the people who always suffer most when discrimination is allowed: the individuals and communities that are already marginalized.”
President Obama has played a pivotal role in the progress of LGBT rights and equality. From his administration’s recent lift of the Medicare coverage ban on gender reassignment surgery for transgender people to his designation of June as LGBT pride month, Obama is living up to his statement that “ all Americans, LGBT or not, should be treated with dignity and respect.”, This is a huge change from his position on the issue 10 years ago, when he showed no signs of supporting same-sex marriage and claimed that his “religious beliefs say that marriage is something sanctified between a man and a woman.” Now the president openly supports marriage equality and this executive order shows his dedication to ensuring equal rights for all Americans.
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