April 9, 2012 | by Chris Johnson
White House silent on couple’s Easter request for exec order

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

The White House remains mum about the idea of President Obama issuing an executive order requiring federal contractors to bar discrimination against LGBT workers — despite a call Monday for him to take action from a gay couple that participated in the annual Easter Egg Roll event.

Under questioning from NBC News’ Kristen Welker on Monday, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said he has no updates on “possible or proposed executive orders” when asked to respond to the gay couple’s request.

“I don’t have updates for you on possible or proposed executive orders,” Carney said. “I would note that we’re delighted that that couple and many others were delighted to attend the Easter Egg Roll and, again, I don’t have anything more on the executive order.”

Jarrod Scarbrough and Les Sewell, who hail from Albuquerque, N.M., and have been partners for 18 years, intended to ask Obama to issue an executive order requiring companies doing business with the federal government to have non-discrimination policies protecting LGBT workers during the White House Easter Egg Roll on Monday.

Asked by NBC News about why the couple was attending the event, Carney said the couple was invited along with other “families of all kinds” that had been asked to attend.

“Well, they’re here because they were invited and the president — you know, many, many people — families of all kinds are invited to this wonderful event and the president is delighted that they and others were able to attend,” Carney said.

Asked to comment further on the couple’s actions, Carney reiterated previous comments he’s made in response to LGBT-related inquiries on Obama’s record on LGBT issues.

“I don’t have anything for you on a specific executive order,” Carney said. “What I can tell you is, I think, the president’s position on LGBT issues — record, rather — is well known and one that he and we are very proud of.”

The exchange marks the first time that a mainstream media outlet has publicly questioned an administration official about the proposed executive order. Previously, all inquiries had come from the LGBT press.

During a conference call with reporters Monday, Scarbrough said he’s seeking the executive order because he works for a federal contractor, United Healthcare. According to the Human Rights Campaign’s 2012 Corporate Equality Index, the company already has non-discrimination policies set up inclusive of sexual orientation and gender identity.

But Scarbrough said he “felt it was important to push President Obama on an executive order” because United Healthcare’s policy is voluntary and he’s being relocated to Florida, which has no statutory non-discrimination protections for LGBT people in the workplace.

“Because of those reasons, I feel that it is important to advocate for myself, my family and any other families around the nation who are affected by this as well,” Scarbrough said.

But the couple didn’t have the opportunity to speak with Obama. Heather Cronk, managing director of GetEQUAL, told the Washington Blade, “He was gone by the time their slot was up.”

The couple is one voice in a growing choir that is urging Obama to take action. Last week, 72 House Democrats wrote a letter to Obama urging him to issue the order. The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund became the first non-LGBT civil rights group to endorse the executive order.

Multiple sources have said the Labor and Justice Departments have cleared such a measure, but the White House has remained silent on whether it will take such action.

Since the executive order is similar in its goal to the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, the directive has sometimes been referred to as the “ENDA” executive order. However, the order would be more limited in scope because it only affects federal contractors.

A transcript of the exchange between NBC News and Carney follows:

NBC News: And on a separate note, Jay, a New Mexico same-sex couple brought their eight-year-old daughter to the White House today for the Easter Egg Roll, in part to send a message to the President that he should sign an executive order that would ban workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation. Does he plan to sign this executive order?

Jay Carney: I don’t have updates for you on possible or proposed executive orders. I would note that we’re delighted that that couple and many others were delighted to attend the Easter Egg Roll and, again, I don’t have anything more on the executive order.

NBC News: Does the president have a reaction to the fact that they’re here and that they —

Carney: Well, they’re here because they were invited and the president — you know, many, many people — families of all kinds are invited to this wonderful event and the president is delighted that they and others were able to attend.

NBC News: But as you know, they’ve been speaking out. They’ve been speaking to various members of the press about this issue, and —

Carney: Well, again, I don’t have anything for you on a specific executive order. What I can tell you is, I think, the president’s position on LGBT issues — record, rather — is well known and one that he and we are very proud of.

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
  • The calculus is pretty simple, when you get right down to it: Same-sex marriage represents a lot of donation dollars for the Democratic Party and the 2012 campaign. ENDA and workplace equality laws (and executive orders) irritate big businesses, potentially even costing them money, both in ensuring compliance and when and if legal action is ever taken against them under those laws.

    In short, supporting DOMA repeal is a huge moneymaker for Democrats, while support of our right to live and work free of discrimination nationwide (i.e. ENDA and/or similar legislation) is potentially just as big a moneylosing proposition. Sure, they know it’s the right thing to do…but it’s not the profitable thing to do.

    We can’t wait either, but it seems that’s exactly what Obama and the Democrats want us to do. Just keep on waiting…and waiting…waiting, until they finally decide it’s safe to come out of their hidey-holes and start acting like leaders instead of just politicians.

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