Explainer  Marriage and Family  LGBTQ  Sexuality

Explainer: Executive Order on LGBT rights and federal contractors

On Monday, July 21, President Obama signed Executive Order 11478, which amended two previous executive orders related to equal employment opportunity hiring. It amends Executive Order 11246 protecting federal contractors’ employees from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. It also adds gender identity as a protected category under Executive Order 11478, a federal workforce nondiscrimination order. Here are answers to some questions Christians may have about the new administration policy:

What is protected under “sexual orientation” and “gender identity”?

Under “sexual orientation,” the order prohibits discrimination based on an individual’s identification as heterosexual, homosexual or bisexual. Under “gender identity” the order prohibits discrimination based on an “individual’s internal sense of being male or female.” The order prohibits discrimination against both transgender persons (e.g., people with a gender identity that is different from the sex assigned to them at birth) and those in “transition” (e.g., transitioning from living and working as one gender to another).

To whom does the executive order apply?

The executive order prohibits federal agencies as well as federal contractors, subcontractors, and construction employers working on federally assisted construction projects from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity (federal agencies were already prohibited from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation from a 1998 executive order made by President Clinton). The order applies only to companies whose contracts or subcontracts exceed $10,000 in a twelve-month period.

When does the order take effect?

The order directs the Secretary of Labor to issue regulations implementing the new requirements within the next ninety days. The new requirements for federal contractors and subcontractors will apply to contracts entered into on or after the effective date of the implementing regulations issued by the Secretary of Labor. The changes will likely not go into effect, though, until next year.

Are there exemptions for companies that have religious-based objections?

President George W. Bush had previously amended the order in 2002 to allow religious entities to grant employment preferences to individuals of a particular religion. President Obama did not rescind that particular amendment.

However, several religious groups and leaders, including Southern Baptist pastor Rick Warren, wrote a letter to the president asking for a broader religious exemption “comparable to what was included in the Senate version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which passed the Senate with a strong, bipartisan vote.” President Obama refused to include such an exemption.

This poses real and untold legal conflicts if religious preference also includes a code of conduct consistent with a religion’s doctrine.

How many companies will be affected by the change?

According to U.S. News and World Report, the Obama administration said the change for federal contracting will impact some 24,000 companies with 28 million workers, or one-fifth of the U.S. workforce. Many large federal contractors already have employment policies barring sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination, as do 21 states.

How will the new executive order affect religious liberty?

In response to the order, ERLC president Russell Moore said,

While we don’t know the full implications of this executive order, I am disappointed that this administration persistently violates the freedom of conscience for religious organizations that provide necessary relief for the poor and endangered,” said Moore. “The same religious convictions that inspire their social action are the convictions now considered outside the new mainstream of sexual revolutionary fundamentalism. The ones hurt will be the most vulnerable in our society.

When the law goes into affect, some relief organizations, such as the Southern Baptist Disaster Relief, may be ineligible for federal government contracts.

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