New Executive Order Pits Opposing Groups Against Each Other

The Supreme Court’s Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores ruling has spurred gay rights groups to press the Obama administration for more protective actions. He signed an order on July 21, 2014 barring anti-gay bias by federal contractors. Human Rights Campaign president Chad Griffin applauds the move, saying it will have an immediate impact on the lives of millions of people across the country and send a powerful message about anti-gay discrimination, job bias, and gender roles.

The order adds sexual orientation and gender identity to the protected categories in President Lyndon B. Johnson’s 1965 legislation and gender identity to President Richard M. Nixon’s 1969 directive.

Scott Campbell, executive director of the Elton John AIDS Foundation, in a letter to the editor of the New York Times, says the order could have even farther reaching impact by helping the fight against HIV/AIDS and further breaking down the stigmas attached to gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgender people, and would help address institutionalized discrimination.

The new order protects not only gay and lesbian workers, but also transgender employees of companies that do work for the federal government. Religious groups are laiming that the order is discriminatory against them, saying they should not be shut
out of federal contracts because of their religious beliefs.

Religious groups have called for an exemption that would allow them to bid on federal contracts without compromising their religious beliefs, but the president refused. Some religious groups are opposed to an exemption. Interfaith Alliance president Reverend C. Welton Gaddy says using religious freedom as a cover for overt discrimination and an excuse for violating the rights of others is wrong. Interfaith director Heather Cronk agrees.

Major faith organizations signed a letter July 1 to the president demanding a robust exemption and “asking that an extension of protection for one group not come at the expense of faith communities whose religious identity and beliefs motivate them to
serve those in need.” Catholic Charities U.S.A. chief executive Rev. Larry Snyder, Saddleback Church pastor Rick Warren, and World Relief president Stephan Bauman, among others, all signed the letter as “friends of the administration.” It follows a June
25 letter signed by more than 150 conservative religious groups and leaders, warning that any executive orders that don’t fully protect religious freedom would face strong opposition and be nationally divisive.

The President commented that it’s wrong that in much of the country companies can fire employees because of their sexual orientation, and noted that Congress has debated legislation to correct this injustice for too long without acting on it. He told supporters that though he would do what he could, they need to put pressure on Congress. He says
although we’ve got a long way to go, he feels progress has been made, and the order is “on the right side of history.”

The order affects organizations doing work for the federal government in areas such as overseas relief, in prisons, and technical aid. All federal contractors who do $10,000 or more annually in business with the federal government are prohibited from discriminating against employees and applicants based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

New rules will be implemented within 90 days and all employers covered by the new order should review and revise their policies and compliance practices in anticipation of the permanent regulations by early 2015.

Also on Tuesday, a group of gay-rights and civil-rights groups withdrew their support for the Employment Nondiscrimination Act, which includes a religious exemption. The groups, which had never liked the religious provision in the proposed legislation but
accepted it as a way to attract Republican support, said the Hobby Lobby decision had “made it all the more important that we not accept this inappropriate provision.”

For more information: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/22/us/politics/obama-job-discrimination-gays-executive-order.html?_r=0

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