WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama signed an executive order Monday that bars companies that do work for the federal government from discriminating against employees on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
Religious groups had lobbied Obama to exclude faith-based institutions — such as universities, hospitals and nursing homes — from the order, but he declined. Instead, he maintained existing language that allows such groups to favor people of their religion for religious roles, such as members of the clergy.
Gay rights groups hailed the president's action. A key Democratic constituency, they had been pushing for the order for years without any additional religious exemption. Loud cheers and a standing ovation greeted Obama at a packed ceremony Monday at the White House.
"Thanks to your passionate advocacy and the irrefutable rightness of your cause, our government — government of the people, by the people and for the people — will become just a little bit fairer," Obama said.
Obama had long resisted issuing an order because he said he wanted Congress to pass legislation. But after years of inaction on Capitol Hill and intense lobbying by gay rights groups, he decided to act.