Biden gets out in front of Obama on LGBT discrimination

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden (L) listens as President Barack Obama speaks at the White House in Washington on Jan. 22, 2014.
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden (L) listens as President Barack Obama speaks at the White House in Washington on Jan. 22, 2014.

There he goes again.

Vice President Joe Biden appeared to once more pull ahead of his boss on LGBT equality, this time telling the Huffington Post that he couldn’t see any reason why the president should continue to stall on extending workplace protections to gay and transgender employees of federal contractors.

“I don’t see any downside,” said Biden on Thursday, when asked about the president’s reluctance to expand an existing executive order that already prohibits federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin -- but not sexual orientation or gender identity.

However, Biden did say that the better approach would be for Congress to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would cover the country’s entire workforce, not just the quarter employed by federal contractors.

“The way to do this is to pass ENDA,” said the vice president. “That ends [anti-LGBT discrimination] everywhere.”

Twenty-nine states currently lack workplace protections for gay and lesbian employees, and four more states allow terminations based on gender identity as well. The Employment Non-Discrimination Act would change all that, but lawmakers have failed to pass versions of the bill since it was first introduced in 1974. The Senate passed the most recent incarnation of ENDA last year, but House Speaker John Boehner has called the measure “unnecessary” and vowed to keep it off the floor this session.

In lieu of legislation, LGBT advocates have been hounding President Obama to take executive action on the matter -- something he promised to do as a candidate in 2008 but has since refused.

“He doesn’t have the ability to ban it,” Biden said of the president, which is partly true. An executive order would only protect employees of federal contractors, who make up approximately 22% of all civilian workers, according to the Center for American Progress. But advocates maintain something is better than nothing.

It’s not the first time the vice president has gotten out in front of Obama on issues related to LGBT equality. In May of 2012, Biden endorsed same-sex marriage, becoming the highest ranking American official to do so. Days later, President Obama announced his support for allowing gay couples to legally wed.