April 4, 2011 | by Chris Johnson
Carney mum on executive orders against LGBT bias

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney (Blade photo by Michael Key)

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney was mum on Monday when asked whether President Obama would be open to issuing executive orders that would provide non-discrimination protections for LGBT people in the workplace and U.S. armed forces.

Under questioning from the Washington Blade, Carney said he wouldn’t venture out to say if Obama would be open to issuing a directive barring the federal government from contracting with companies that don’t have non-discrimination protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Such an order would offer similar protections that have been proposed under the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

“I don’t want to speculate about what action he may or may not take,” Carney said. “His position is known. And again, he does not shy away from obstacles when he approaches an issue that’s important to him. But I don’t have a — I’m not going to speculate about what measure he might take.”

Passage of ENDA with protections based on both sexual orientation and gender identity was among Obama’s promises in the 2008 presidential campaign. However, the legislation failed to move during the 111th Congress, and Republican control of the House makes ENDA passage unlikely for at least two years.

An executive order has been seen as an interim alternative to ENDA passage, although the directive would have more limited protections because it would only directly impact employers that contract with the U.S. government. Last week in an interview with the Blade, gay Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) endorsed the order and said it would “show a lot of courage on behalf of the administration and demonstrate that they’re committed to moving to a discrimination-free workplace environment.”

Similarly, Carney had few words when asked whether Obama would be open to an executive order that would ensure LGBT service members have legal recourse if, after repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” they feel they’ve experienced discrimination in the U.S. military.

“Again, I don’t have — I don’t want to say what he may or may not be open to,” Carney said. “What I do know is that repeal is going along on schedule and successfully, and he is very closely monitoring that. And — but more than that I do not have.”

The repeal legislation that Obama signed in December would lift “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” from the federal code, but puts nothing in its place that would ensure gay service members have protections against discrimination.

Gay rights supporters have been calling on President Obama to issue an executive order that would provide explicit protections for gay service members who feel they’ve experienced discrimination in the armed forces. The White House hasn’t explicitly endorsed or rejected the idea, but has noted Pentagon policy guidance stating that harassment or abuse based on sexual orientation would be unacceptable in the military.

Servicemembers Legal Defense Network has called on Obama to issue an executive order with protections both on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Troops who disclose they are transgender are separated from the military as a medical discharge under military regulation.

Pressed on whether any impediment — legal, political or otherwise — is blocking the president from issuing either order, Carney declined to identify anything that’s preventing the president from taking these actions.

“Those kinds of questions about legal impediments are best addressed to lawyers, and I am not one,” Carney said.

A partial transcript of the exchange between the Blade and Carney follows:

Washington Blade: Jay, three questions. One of the president’s goals has been passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which bar job discrimination against gay and transgender Americans. That’s going to be a challenge with Republicans in control of the House.

One idea that’s being proposed as an interim alternative is an executive order that would bar the federal government from doing business with companies that don’t have their workplace protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Would the president be open to issuing this executive order?

Jay Carney: Well, I don’t want to speculate about what action he may or may not take. His position is known. And again, he does not shy away from obstacles when he approaches an issue that’s important to him. But I don’t have a — I’m not going to speculate about what measure he might take.

Blade: In a similar vein, as we move forward with “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal, is the president open to issuing an executive order to ensure that LGBT service members have legal recourse if they feel they’ve experienced discrimination in the U.S. military?

Carney: Again, I don’t have — I don’t want to say what he may or may not be open to. What I do know is that repeal is going along on schedule and successfully, and he is very closely monitoring that. And — but more than that I do not have.

Blade: But do you see any impediment — legal, political or otherwise — that would prevent the president from issuing either of these executive orders?

Carney: Those kinds of questions about legal impediments are best addressed to lawyers, and I am not one.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

1 Comment
  • Why is it that Obama often campaigns as if he is a champion of the LGBT community, but when the time comes to act he can never commit to supporting equality for LGBT Americans? ENDA is really basic.

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