WASHINGTON -- The White House insisted Wednesday that although President Barack Obama didn't mention the Employment Non-Discrimination Act in his State of the Union address, he is still committed to its passage in Congress.
"The State of the Union isn't a comprehensive list of all of the President’s positions or priorities," said White House spokesman Shin Inouye.
ENDA would bar workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. It passed the Senate with strong bipartisan support in November. While it also has bipartisan support in the GOP-controlled House, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has reportedly said there is "no way" it will pass this year.
With Obama focusing on "opportunity for all" as the theme of his speech, many LGBT advocates saw ENDA as a natural fit. After all, economic opportunities are limited if a person can be fired simply because they happen to be lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. A fact sheet distributed by the White House in advance of the speech also referenced the president's desire to see Congress approve ENDA.
In an ideal world, LGBT advocates would have liked to have seen Obama announce that he would be signing an executive order barring federal contractors from LGBT discrimination. But at the very least, they wanted to see him highlight the need for congressional action on ENDA in his big annual policy address.
Inouye stressed Wednesday that Obama still believes it is time to send ENDA to his desk.
"The President has long supported ENDA, and its inclusion in our fact sheet reflects the President’s belief that Congress needs to act," he said. "It's time to add sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of categories protected by federal law against employment discrimination. No American worker should lose his or her job simply because of who they are or who they love. Last year, a bipartisan majority of the Senate passed ENDA, and the President renews his call for the House to do the same."
When asked Wednesday morning why Obama has not yet signed an anti-discrimination executive order, White House press secretary Jay Carney told a reporter, "I think his position on LGBT rights is crystal clear."
It is currently legal in 33 states for an employer to fire or harass someone on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Forty-two percent of gay individuals and 90 percent of transgender individuals say they have experienced some form of employment discrimination.
While it's true that an executive order would not be as comprehensive as ENDA, it would protect as many as 16 million workers.
The last time a president mentioned the bill in a State of the Union address was when Bill Clinton called for its passage in 1999.
"I certainly would've loved to have heard the president recognize that the Senate had a historic 2-1 bipartisan vote in support of ending discrimination for the LGBT community," Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), ENDA's lead sponsor in the Senate, told Metro Weekly after the speech Tuesday night. "I certainly hope that he’ll press in other venues for the House to take up this bill."