President Barack Obama used his executive power on Monday morning to sign an order that will affect roughly one-fifth of the American workforce, prohibiting discrimination in the workplace based on gender identity or sexual orientation.
The executive order, which prevents discrimination among federal employees, is similar to a measure the Senate passed last year, but has not yet passed through the House.
Obama’s signing of the executive order completely bypasses congressional opinion, and instead, acts solely on popular public opinion.
“I’m going to do what I can with the authority I have to act,” Obama said. “The rest of you of course need to keep putting pressure on Congress to pass federal legislation that resolves this problem once and for all.”
“America’s federal contracts should not subsidize discrimination against the American people,” Obama told a crowd of supporters gathered at the White House. “I firmly believe that it’s time to address this injustice for every American.”
During his speech, Obama emphasized that workplace equality will help keep the American federal workplace competitive. He stated that his Presidential administration has hired more lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender individuals than any other administration. The president said he did not hire these individuals just as a wise hiring practice, but because they were the most talented individuals for the job.
“Quality in the workplace is not only the rights thing to do, it turns out to be good business. That’s why the majority of Fortune 500 companies already have non-discrimination polices in place. It’s not just about doing the right thing, it’s about attracting and retaining the right talent.”
Hundreds of gay rights activists and policy makers gathered in the White House East Room to watch the president sign the order, which is expected to impact over 28 million American workers, and roughly 24,000 American companies. The provision impacting federal employees will go into effect immediately, whereas the provision affecting federal contract workers will not go into place until next year.
Eighteen states have already banned workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender, but by signing this executive order, and banning such discrimination within the federal government, Obama sets the standard for the American employer.
“Thanks to your passionate advocacy and the irrefutable rightness of your cause, our government — a government of the people, by the people and for the people — will become just a little bit fairer,” Obama told the crowd.