Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, center, with Sen.… (Alex Brandon, Associated…)
WASHINGTON-- Rejecting pressure from gay rights activists, President Obama has decided not issue an executive order barring federal contractors from discriminating on the basis on sexual orientation, his spokesman said Thursday.
Obama “is committed to securing equal rights” for gays and lesbians, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said. But he added that for now the president would pursue a slower path on the issue.
Carney said Obama would continue to push for passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would provide broader protection.
“The approach we're taking at this time is to try to build support for passage of this legislation, a comprehensive approach to legislate on the issue of nondiscrimination,” Carney said.
The news outraged some activists, who have taken up the issue as a major priority since the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell" -- the law that barred gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military. With Republicans in control of the House, an anti-discrimination law is unlikely to pass.
Despite enjoying strong support from gay and lesbian voters and donors, the president has had a sometimes rocky relationship with gay rights activists who have pushed him to move further and faster on their issues. He took a slower approach to repealing the “don’t ask” law than many wanted. And he is under fresh pressure to endorse gay marriage, an issue on which he says he is “evolving,” as the Democratic Party crafts its 2012 platform.
Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese said his organization was “extremely disappointed” and would continue to lobby on the bias issue.
Other activists attributed Thursday’s news to election-year politics.
“This is a political calculation that cannot stand,” said Tico Almeida, president of Freedom to Work, an advocacy group that has launched a campaign against discrimination in the workplace. “White House staffers and lawyers have let politics stand in the way of a basic American value -- that a solid day’s work deserves a solid day’s pay, regardless of the color of your skin, your place of worship, your gender, or who you love.”
Carney disputed the characterization, saying the decision was “absolutely not” a move for safer political harbors. The White House's legislative strategy was “similar to” the one it chose on military service, Carney said.
The White House suggested the federal contracting issue did not yet have sufficient support. Carney said the administration would focus on building support and coalitions around the issue, working with activists and contractors.
Carney added that the White House was making the decision not to issue the order “at this time.”
Almeida said his group would continue to lobby the White House.