President Barack Obama has been pushed for years by gay activists to ban contractors with the federal government from discriminating against gay and transgender employees through the use of his executive power. They finally got their wish this week. On Monday, Obama signed such an order, prohibiting workplace discrimination by federal government agencies and anybody contracting with the government. And no, it doesn't contain a religious exemption clause.
It's not unreasonable for the president to define the terms in which others may do business with the government, just as a CEO may implement non-discrimination policies for his or her own business, as long as these rules are fairly and consistently applied. It's preferable to the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which would present a blanket ban on anti-gay or anti-transgender workplace discrimination in the private sector. ENDA is a violation of business operators' rights of free association. But nobody has a right to a contract with the government.
If there's something for libertarians to be disappointed about with this executive order, the number of Americans who work for a company with federal government contracts will fill them with misery. The Associated Press notes:
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 anti-gay workplace discrimination. However, the Williams Institute at UCLA Law School estimates that the executive order would extend protections to about 14 million workers whose employers or states currently do not have such nondiscrimination policies.
One out of five working Americans works for a company that earns money from the federal government in some fashion. Sure, I'm a supporter of public-private partnerships to help contain costs, but those numbers are a pretty strong indicator of how extensive federal government reach has become. And keep in mind, that doesn't include direct federal government employees.
Read the White House's fact sheet here.