After Senate Win Gay Groups Shift Focus to Obama
WASHINGTON -- Moments after the Senate passed a historic measure to outlaw workplace discrimination against gays, activists turned their attention toward President Barack Obama and a long-sought executive order that would have the same effect, though on a much smaller scale.
"We call on President Obama to send a clear message in support of workplace fairness by signing this executive order," said Chad Griffin, president of the gay advocacy group Human Rights Campaign.
The quick shift underscores the reality that the bill is unlikely to ever reach Obama’s desk. While the anti-discrimination measure passed comfortably Thursday in the Democratic-controlled Senate, it may never get a vote in the GOP-led House because of Speaker John Boehner’s opposition.
But gay rights groups and the White House appear to have differing views of the opportunities presented by that political landscape.
While activists take Boehner’s opposition as a clear sign the president should act on his own to extend workplace protections to gays and transgender people, White House officials see an opportunity to cast Republicans as outside the mainstream on gay rights, an issue where public opinion has rapidly shifted.
"We will use this as an opportunity to ramp up pressure on Republicans to act on the bipartisan legislation that was passed in the Senate," White House spokesman Josh Earnest said. "We welcome the opportunity to have a public debate with Republicans on this issue."
The Employment Non-Discrimination Act - known as 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. Religious institutions and the military would be exempted.
Sixty-four senators, including 10 Republicans, voted Thursday for ENDA, the first major gay rights bill since Congress repealed the ban on gays in the military three years ago. Outside conservative groups have cast the bill as anti-family, while Boehner argues it is certain to create costly, frivolous lawsuits for businesses.