As long as Congress refuses to work with President Barack Obama, the president's only option is to run public policy around the Capitol instead of through it. The White House announced Monday that the president intends to sign an executive order banning federal contractors from discriminating based on sexual orientation. That will help fulfill an Obama campaign promise from 2008, and it is another step in the right direction in a nation that has become more accepting of all manner of equal opportunities for gay citizens.
The executive order will prohibit federal contractors from discriminating on the bases of sexual orientation or gender identity. One research organization estimates that more than 16 million federal workers could be protected, although most of the largest federal contractors already offer at least some protections. Gay rights groups had become impatient with Obama for failing to act as he waited on Congress, and Monday's announcement signals that the president has all but given up on the legislative branch.
It would be better if Congress approved broader legislation that would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in all workplaces. And it would be better if Congress would raise the minimum wage for all workers. Obama signed an executive order earlier this year requiring federal contractors to pay a minimum wage of $10.10 per hour instead of the federal minimum wage of $7.25, which will affect an estimated 200,000 workers. Until Congress breaks its partisan gridlock, the president's last resort to make meaningful change is to use executive orders to at least improve the lives of millions of Americans working for federal contractors.