WASHINGTON — If there’s one characteristic of Vice-President Joe Biden that can be counted on, it’s his ability to stay one step ahead of the President on matters of LGBT rights.
In an interview this week with the Huffington Post, Biden says the time is now to move forward with workplace protections for LGBT people, and doesn’t see any reason why the President shouldn’t use his executive authority to ban workplace discrimination against LGBT employees of federal contractors.
“I don’t see any downside,” Biden said when asked about President Barack Obama’s reluctance to take executive action on the issue.
The Employment Non-Discrimination Act was first introduced in 1974, and while the U.S. Senate passed the most recent version of ENDA last November, U.S. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has refused to bring it to the House floor for a vote.
Currently twenty-nine states lack any form of workplace protections against discrimination for gay and lesbian employees, and four additional states allow employers to terminate employees based on gender identity as well.
ENDA would bar employers with 15 or more workers from using a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity as the basis for making employment decisions, including hiring, firing, compensation or promotion.
An executive order would allow the federal government to terminate a contract based on a company’s discrimination against its workers, which “creates a very high incentive for contractors” not to discriminate, says Sarah Warbelow, legal director for the Human Rights Campaign, which would offer some protections to as many as 16 million federal contract workers.
LGBT right advocates have long pressured the Obama administration for an executive order, noting that as a candidate in 2008, President Obama promised action on the issue, but has since refused.
White House spokesperson Jay Carney has consistently declined to answer questions regarding the President’s inaction, only to indicate that the Administration supports passage of ENDA.
Advocates argue that even an executive order would be more suitable than inaction on the part of the Administration.
It’s not the first time the Vice-President has gotten out in front of Obama on issues related to LGBT equality. In May of 2012, Biden came out in support of same-sex marriage, followed days later by an announcement by Obama indicating his support for marriage equality as well.