President Obama on Monday will sign a new executive order that prohibits federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
"No current federal law adequately protects lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) workers from employment discrimination," a White House official said, announcing the move. "This is both contrary to our values as Americans, and bad for business."
There had been concern that the president's executive order could include religious exemptions similar to those in the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, legislation that would extend employment discrimination protections to all LGBT workers.
Gay and civil rights groups abandoned their support for that legislation earlier this month over concerns stemming from the Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby decision.
The organizations expressed concern that the religious exemption included in ENDA could be exploited by employers to discriminate against LGBT individuals.
They say that if the law was interpreted as it was in the Hobby Lobby ruling, which allowed closely-held companies to opt out of paying for birth control coverage, hospitals, nursing homes, and universities could institutionalize discrimination.
Obama's executive order will amend an order first issued by President Johnson, adding sexual orientation and gender identity to a list of protected categories including race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability, and age.
"At a critical time for our nation’s economy, we need all of our workers to be focused on making the most of their talent, skill, and ingenuity, rather than worrying about losing their job due to discrimination," the official said.
"Discrimination is not just wrong, it also can keep qualified workers from maximizing their potential to contribute to the strengthening of our economy.”
Obama had for months resisted calls from gay rights groups to draft such an order, with White House aides saying the president wanted Congress to pass legislation extending anti-discrimination protections to all American workers. But after passing the Senate in November, legislation saw little progress in the Republican-controlled House.
“Shockingly enough, the House refused to act,” Obama said at an LGBT gala in New York City earlier this month, noting Congress had been “considering legislation to protect LGBT workers for decades.”
Top Republicans, including Speaker John BoehnerJohn BoehnerHouse markup of ObamaCare repeal bill up in the air Conservatives to Congress: Get moving Boehner: ObamaCare repeal and replace 'not going to happen' MORE (R-Ohio), have called the bill redundant and warned it would cost jobs by creating frivolous litigation.
But Obama blasted resistance to worker protections as “not right.”
“In the United States, who you are and who you love shouldn’t be a fireable offense,” he said.