Advocates for gay rights are hopeful that President Obama, who alluded to his support for gay rights in his second inaugural address last week, will formalize that support by issuing an executive order that would prohibit companies with federal contracts from discriminating against employees on the basis of their sexual orientation.
While many state laws, including those in New York, prohibit sexual orientation discrimination in employment, federal law does not yet. To date, 21 states plus the District of Columbia have such laws; in addition, nine states as well as D.C. permit same sex-marriage.
Supporters of the potential Obama administration action say that LGBT employees have faced workplace discrimination for too long. People who have waited for a legislative solution say that the current makeup of Congress is not likely to pass legislation outlawing sexual orientation discrimination anytime soon and see an executive order as their best hope. The impact would be huge: it would cover about 16 million workers, about 20 percent of the domestic workforce.
Some observers say that the timing of Obama's inaugural remarks may have been political: since he cannot stand for re-election for president again, opponents wouldn't be able to use an executive order against him. However, a White House spokesman says the administration isn't ready to issue such an executive order yet.
It's conceivable that the issue could be left to the states, as Obama has said he would do with gay marriage. Upcoming Supreme Court rulings on same-sex marriage could play a part in the momentum an executive order would generate.
Source: Associated Press, "LGBT advocates seek ban on employment discrimination," Jan. 24, 2013