Right Wing Lather Over Anticipated Executive Order Protecting LGBT Workers
The political and religious right has long been up in arms over what it says is an excessive number of executive orders signed by President Barack Obama, but the anticipated signing of an order that would bar discrimination by government contractors against LGBT workers is generating even more heat.
Tony Perkins, the famously anti-gay head of the Family Research Council -- a group that purports to represent the interests of American families, but seems to exclude, and indeed target, families headed by same-sex couples -- issued an email in which he derided the expected executive order as "coercion," and shunned LGBT workers as being "sexually confused."
The email was the subject of a posting at gay news site JoeMyGod. Perkins also slammed Gay Pride Month.
""After 30 days of nonstop, in-your-face celebration, the White House is capping off ’gay pride’ month with its biggest gift yet," Perkins railed. "Next Monday, the pot of gold at the end of this President’s rainbow is an executive order giving special workplace benefits to the sexually confused.
"For the far-Left, it caps off a long fight to get the administration to do what Congress has not: order employers to put aside their profits, principles, and practices in the name of political correctness," the blast from Perkins thundered on. "The President’s order implementing part of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) -- once considered ’too radical’ even for his own party -- forces government contractors and subcontractors to hire gays, lesbians, transvestites, and transsexuals -- regardless of their legally protected morals."
Added Perkins, "This level of coercion is nothing less than viewpoint blackmail -- and from the federal government no less!"
Reports that the president had decided to sign an executive order protecting gay and lesbian workers surfaced in the press in mid-June. The anti-gay pushback was instantaneous, with individual with the FRC, Peter Sprigg, losing no time in broadcasting his objections on June 16. Sprigg’s comments were reported that same day by RightWing Watch.
"This political gesture reflects the president’s repeated disregard for the legislative process," Sprigg’s scathing, if somewhat scattershot, statement declared. "Congress has not passed the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) or similar provisions, despite activists’ pressure to do so, because of the detrimental impact on employers’ and employees’ constitutional freedoms of religion, speech, and association. Historically, these kinds of provisions have not been applied to conduct-based distinctions that are not found in the Constitution."
Previous reports in the press had noted that despite passing the Senate and enjoying strong support in the House, the most recent attempt to pass ENDA was effectively killed by House Speaker John Boehner, who refused to allow the measure to come up for a vote.
Not touching upon any of this at all, Sprigg charged ahead, though with a somewhat baffling change of direction. "Today’s announced executive order will give activists a license to challenge their employers whenever they feel aggrieved, exposing those employers to threats of costly legal proceedings and the potential of jeopardizing future contracts," Sprigg continued.
Sprigg’s statement went on to depart even further from the concrete and fizzled in a nebulous wisp: "Furthermore, by requiring federal contractors to consider characteristics and behaviors related to a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity, this policy will make contractors liable for protecting actual or perceived self-disclosed and fluid identities that may not even be known."
Whatever the FRC’s claims might mean, Boehner recently made a much less ambiguous announcement, saying that he would use taxpayer money to file suit against the Obama Administration to curb the president’s use of executive orders. Critics say that Obama has used this executive privilege to side step a Congress that has long been locked into deep, even bitter, divisions and legislative paralysis.
Obama held fast, telling ABC News on June 27 that the threatened suit was nothing more than a "stunt."
"You notice that he didn’t specifically say what exactly he was objecting to," the president told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos on June 26, adding that if Boehner were concerned about the president’s use of executive orders, he might "try getting something done in Congress."
Obama put the matter flatly, saying, "I’m not going to apologize for trying to do something while [Boehner and the Republicans] are doing nothing."
The long-simmering contention that President Obama has relied too heavily on executive orders was put to the test by online myth-busting site Snopes, which noted that reports regarding the number of executive orders Obama had signed were grossly exaggerated in some instances.
"Through his first term (i.e., the first four years of his presidency), Barack Obama issued 147 executive orders, not 923. (Now well into the second year of his second term, President Obama has issued a total of 168 executive orders overall.)," Snopes noted.
"Moreover, compared to President Obama’s predecessors in the White House, this is not an unusually large number of orders for a modern president: President George W. Bush issued 291 executive orders during his eight years in office, while President Bill Clinton issued 364 such orders over the same span of time."
Critics of Boehner’s threatened suit say that it’s simply one way for GOP lawmakers to justify their seats by looking busy in a midterm election year.
"They are doing nothing here so they have to give some aura of activity," Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said, according to a June 25 Politico story.
While wildly exaggerated claims about the number of Obama’s executive orders are easily disproven, the issue of scope is another matter. Whether Obama may have exceeded his authority with one or more of executive orders he has signed would be up to the courts to decide, especially in light of an intransigent Congress locked up by a number of lawmakers seemingly focused on nothing more than denying the president any legislative victories or the credit that would go with them.
Should Boehner proceed with the threatened suit, taxpayers might take some comfort in knowing their dollars could, at least, potentially answer the question of just how far a president might legally take the privilege of executive orders.
That seems unlikely to knowledgeable observers. Boehner previously spent taxpayer money to defend DOMA against challenges in federal courts when the Obama Administration refused to do so. In the end, the Supreme Court struck down key provisions of the anti-gay federal law.
Besides, noted the Constitutional Accountability Center’s Simon Lazarus, Congress has other, more effective methods at its disposal to deal with instances of presidential overreach. Lazarus used language quite similar to Obama’s when discounting Boehner’s threat.
"He never once names a single act that he intends to challenge or believes is unconstitutional or illegal, so it’s impossible to give much credence to this," Lazarus opined, according to a June 25 Washington Times article. "It’s really quite difficult to see this as anything other than a transparent political stunt."