Harry Reid Favors Obama's ENDA Executive Order

The move could signal that similar federal legislation is effectively dead in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.

BY Sunnivie Brydum

February 05 2014 4:14 PM ET

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) indicated Tuesday that he's ready for the president to take executive action to outlaw anti-LGBT employment discrimination for federal contractors — arguably signaling that federal legislation to outlaw the same is effectively dead in the House of Representatives. 

When asked if the President should issue an executive order banning discrimination against LGBT people in employment by federal contractors, Reid told the Huffington Post, "If the president decides to do it, I’d be in favor of it."

LGBT advocates and allies have been placing increasing pressure on Obama to pass an executive order while federal legislation to outlaw employment discrimination nationwide remains stalled in Congress. 

Obama's 2014 State of the Union address alluded to several issues on which the president was willing to exercise his power as chief executive, but he made no mention of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, sparking criticism from several LGBT organizations. 

The White House has consistently said that it prefers Congress to take action on employment nondiscrimination, noting that an executive order would only cover federal contractors, whereas a federal law would cover most Americans. Still, even an executive order could protect 16 million Americans — approximately 20 percent of the U.S. workforce — from being fired or not promoted simply due to their sexual orientation or gender identity. In 29 states, employers are legally permitted to fire a worker for being gay, lesbian, or bisexual, and in 33 states, it's perfectly legal to fire someone or decline to hire them because they are transgender or have a gender-nonconforming expression. 

Although the White House contends it remains hopeful that the federal bill will pass the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, Speaker John Boehner recently told the congressional LGBT caucus that there is "no way" ENDA will get a vote this session. The Speaker, an Ohio Republican in congress since 1991, has previously said he doesn't believe ENDA is necessary, and that existing laws protect LGBT workers. Regardless, LGBT employees continue to lose their jobs because of who they are. 

The Senate passed the legislation with a bipartisan majority of 64-32 last November, the first time LGBT-inclusive employment protections had ever passed that chamber. ENDA was first introduced — albeit without protections for gender identity — in 1994, according to the Human Rights Campaign

In a slight departure from the White House's official messaging to date, senior adviser John Podesta told Bloomberg News last week that an executive order barring employment discrimination is "under consideration" by the administration. Frustrated LGBT advocates note, however, that then-candidate Obama campaigned on a promise to outlaw anti-LGBT employment discrimination, putting "the full weight of [his] administration behind… a fully inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act."

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