How Long Will It Take For Obama To Finally Do Something About Workplace Discrimination?

gay-for-obamaOver the weekend, Attorney General Eric Holder had a big announcement on LGBT rights. Here’s what it amounted to:

If you are indicted, your spouse will not be required to testify against you. If you declare bankruptcy, you and your spouse will be treated just like any other married couple.

These policy decisions (and others like them) are just the latest ripple in the ongoing expansion of marriage equality benefits. They are important in their own way, but they are limited. So here’s a question for the Obama administration.

Why are you mucking around in these weeds when you still haven’t issued an executive order preventing job discrimination in the federal workplace?

This is one of the stranger conundrums of politics today. Marriage equality is racing ahead at a gallop, but nondiscrimination protection at the federal level languishes. Even as the Obama administration is pushing hard to make sure that the law applies equally to all married couples, it still hasn’t taken the far more basic step of making sure people aren’t canned from their jobs for being gay or lesbian.

In making the announcement about marriage laws at a fundraising dinner for the Human Rights Campaign, Attorney General Eric Holder explicitly linked the advancement of LGBT rights with the struggle for racial equality.

“Just as was true during the civil rights movement of the 1960s, the stakes involved in this generation’s struggle for LGBT equality could not be higher,” Holder said. “Then, as now, nothing less than our country’s founding commitment to the notion of equal protection under the law was at stake.”

Which makes the absence of action on the job front all the more glaring. The federal Employment Nondiscrimination Act (ENDA) passed the Senate but Speaker John Boehner will never allow it to come to a vote in the House. At the time of the Senate passage, Obama issued a statement saying, “Now is the time to end this kind of discrimination in the workplace, not enable it.”

Now might also be the time for the president to carry through with this threat from the State of the Union address to achieve by executive order what a recalcitrant House will not allow. He just did by raising the minimum wage for employees of federal contractors. Why not issue an executive order banning discrimination by those same contractors?

There are plenty of reasons why workplace protections are now the last unlikely hill to wage a battle on. None of those reasons is particularly good. Given how far the country has moved on marriage equality, banning job discrimination seems like a much less contentious task. Maybe the administration doesn’t consider it enough of a priority. Maybe it prefers to focus on marriage equality as having creating broader societal change.

But in the meantime, it’s perfectly okay for federal contractors (outside of states without protections) to fire LGBT workers. Why this would be acceptable to the Obama administration is a mystery. Yet it is. Perhaps the president needs to evolve more than we thought. In the meantime, the clock is ticking.