Small step in uphill battle

President Obama’s move to protect federal workers from discrimination is one small piece of the puzzle in gay rights movement

It’s astounding to us in this day and age that the president of the United States would have to take the lead on implementing policy to prevent discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

But that’s exactly what happened on Monday, July 21, when President Obama signed an executive order that broadens previous protections for gay and lesbian federal workers to include transsexuals. In addition, under the president’s order, sexual orientation and gender identity are now protected categories for employees of companies receiving federal contracts.

It was a significant move in support of gay rights, especially considering the president had been under pressure to include a religious exemption in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s flawed ruling in the Hobby Lobby case—a decision that allows companies to opt out of providing certain forms of birth control to workers based on religious beliefs.

The president did not include such an exemption. Unfortunately, though, he maintained a George W. Bush-era policy allowing religious groups with existing federal contracts a limited exemption allowing them to make employment decisions based on religious ideology.

Banning such discrimination around the nation, however, remains an uphill battle. The executive order applies only to an estimated 20 percent of the American workforce, so federal legislation approved by Congress is much needed.

Of course, Obama had no other choice but to tackle the issue in this way, since recalcitrant House Republicans have balked when it comes to supporting gay rights. Yet another reason why Americans have given this Congress the lowest approval rating in history.