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Advocates seething over Obama’s inaction on LGBT workplace protections

Boehner says "no way” ENDA will pass this year
Wednesday, January 29, 2014
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Carolyn Kaster, APPresident Barack Obama signs a memorandum directing the Treasury Department to create a new retirement saving account after speaking at the U.S. Steel Irvin Plant, Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2014, in West Mifflin, Pa., about retirement policies he highlighted in the State of the Union address.

Carolyn Kaster, AP
President Barack Obama signs a memorandum on Wednesday directing the Treasury Department to create a new retirement saving account he highlighted in Tuesday’s the State of the Union address.

WASHINGTON — For some White House allies, the long list of executive actions President Barack Obama announced in his State of the Union address was marred by a few glaring omissions.

Gay rights advocates are seething over Obama’s refusal to grant employment discrimination protections to gays and lesbians working for federal contractors, safeguards they have been seeking for years. And some immigration overhaul supporters were disappointed that he did not act on his own to halt deportations, which have soared during his presidency and angered many Hispanics.

On both issues, White House officials say the place for action is in Congress, where successful legislation would be far more sweeping than the steps the president could take by himself.

But work on an employment non-discrimination bill and an overhaul of the nation’s immigration laws is stalled on Capitol Hill, leaving advocates perplexed as to why their calls for executive action did not fit into Obama’s vow to act “whenever and wherever” Congress will not.

“In the absence of congressional action, an executive order that prohibits discrimination by contractors is a tailor-made solution to the president’s expressed aims,” said Fred Sainz, vice president of Human Rights Campaign. Sainz said his frustration with the White House’s inaction on the issue was “growing by the day.”

The criticism is particularly striking given that it is coming from two constituencies that have reliably supported the president.

More than 70 percent of Hispanic voters backed Obama in the 2012 presidential election, and the gay community has consistently praised him for his unprecedented support.

For gay rights advocates in particular, the frustration that followed the State of the Union was compounded by the fact that the president announced a minimum-wage executive order that in many ways mirrored the action they are seeking. The order raises the minimum hourly pay for new federal contractors from $7.25 to $10.10.

Obama cast the move as an opportunity to make at least some progress on the issue while he pushes Congress to pass legislation extending the minimum to all workers.

Gay rights proponents have asked Obama to sign an executive order prohibiting discrimination by federal contractors on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

At the same time, they want Congress to pass the broader Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which has the backing of the White House.

That measure passed the Senate last year but is stalled in the Republican-led House.

Heather Cronk, co-director of the organizations GetEqual, said Obama’s declining to sign the executive order means he is “actively choosing to permit discrimination against LGBT workers.”

On Wednesday, the Washington Blade reported that House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) told attendees last week at his first-ever meeting with the LGBT Equality Caucus there was “no way” ENDA would pass this year.

Associated Press contributed to this report.

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