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Obama to sign order on LGBT discrimination

Josh Edelson/AP Images for HRC

WASHINGTON — President Obama will sign an executive order prohibiting federal contractors from discriminating against gays, lesbians, and others on the basis of their sexual orientation, an election-year move that follows years of pressure by gay rights organizations.

Obama’s decision to proceed with the executive order, announced Monday by the White House, immediately delighted gay rights groups, even as it signaled that Obama does not believe broader action by Congress is likely.

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Obama is set to address a fund-raiser hosted by the Democratic National Committee’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender council Tuesday in New York.

‘‘The president has directed his staff to prepare for his signature an executive order that prohibits federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity,’’ a White House official said in a statement.

‘‘The action would build upon existing protections, which generally prohibit federal contractors and subcontractors from discriminating in employment decisions on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin,’’ the official said. “This is consistent with the President’s views that all Americans, LGBT or not, should be treated with dignity and respect.’’

White House officials did not detail the timing of the executive order, which Obama originally promised to pursue in his 2008 campaign.

For years since, he has declined to issue the order, citing other administration efforts to advance gay rights and a desire to avoid interfering with efforts in Congress to pass the broader Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would ban discrimination against gays in the workplace. The Senate has passed ENDA, but the House has declined.

Adopting ‘federal employment protections for LGBT people is good policy and good for business.’

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Obama’s past refusal to sign an executive order was long a source of tension with gay rights organizations, which in the past expressed frustration and anger with the president’s reluctance to engage on this specific measure.

On Monday, however, top groups lavished the administration with praise for the action.

‘‘By issuing an executive order prohibiting federal contractors from discriminating against LGBT people, the president will not only create fairer workplaces across the country, he will demonstrate to Congress that adopting federal employment protections for LGBT people is good policy and good for business,’’ said Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, in a statement.

Other gay rights organizations also celebrated the action, though they noted it was long delayed.

‘‘We’re thrilled that the White House is finally taking action on LGBT workplace discrimination — action that is long overdue, but that will finally begin to address the enormous hurdles that LGBT individuals face in finding and keeping a job in this country,’’ said Heather Cronk, codirector of GetEQUAL, an activist group.

Cronk added that it is critical that the executive order not include religious exemptions ‘‘that would permit taxpayer dollars to be spent on discrimination.’’

The Williams Institute at the University of California-Los Angeles, a research organization for LGBT issues, has said that 16.5 million federal workers potentially would be protected by an executive action of this sort. It did not cite a specific number of workers who have probably faced discrimination. A 2013 survey of LGBT adults by the Pew Research Center found that 21 percent reported facing workplace discrimination.

Several big contractors have strongly resisted new measures, including Exxon Mobil Corp., which makes hundreds of millions of dollars a year in federal contracts.

In its statement, the Human Rights Campaign noted that Exxon Mobil rejected a policy to prohibit discrimination against gay workers during a shareholder meeting this month.

This is at least the second time Obama has chosen to use an executive action affecting only government contractors after Congress balked at broader proposals.

Earlier this year, Obama signed an executive order that requires contractors to pay their employees a minimum wage of $10.10. Congress has refused to embrace a similar provision affecting all employers.

‘‘This is a major step forward in the struggle for freedom and justice for LGBTQ workers and their families,’’ said Rea Carey, executive director, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, in a statement.

‘‘Now millions of people will have the economic security they need to provide for their families. Through his actions, the president has demonstrated again his commitment to ending discrimination.’’

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