Legislation and an LGBTQ Executive Order: What’s the Difference?

Source: Thinkstock

Source: Thinkstock

In upcoming weeks President Barack Obama is set to finally put pen to paper against work discrimination for the LGBTQ community, an action he promised to take on a long time ago, but which had been delayed while Congress waited to vote on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) bill.

After ENDA passed the Senate but failed to be dealt with in the House of Representatives again this year — with House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) insistent that the bill was unnecessary, the president is preparing to take the matter up himself. But while the order is generally lauded as a boost to LGBTQ protection and equal rights, it is not the direct equivalent of congressional legislation; the two are not synonymous pieces in their effects or implications.

So where do these distinctions lie? Let’s take a look at what each political action has to offer, starting with the failed ENDA. ENDA is nothing if not an elderly piece of legislation, one that’s been on congressional radar for many years. This was the first year that it passed in the Senate, though, in order to do so, senators first dealt with concerns over freedom of religion clashing with anti-discrimination laws, a major stumbling block for many politicians. The initial bill had provisions in it to allow that certain religious organizations, including churches and other specifically religious groups, to discriminate based on religious reasons. However, when further provisions to increase the number of exceptions were attempted with the Toomey amendment, it had critics from the other side insisting that the power and enforceability of the law had been reduced.

This amendment threatens to gut the central premise of ENDA. The amendment is ill-defined, and opens floodgates to all kinds of court cases,” said Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), according to Advocate.com, a sentiment that John Boehner had echoed in his refusal to take it to the House floors even without the amendment added on.