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Banning sexual orientation discrimination could be on the horizon

For many people in the workforce in Minnesota, being discriminated against because of sexual orientation is a real fear. While great strides have been made in the area of workplace discrimination in the last several years, an issue such as discrimination is not going to go away overnight. Those on the forefront of stamping it out at a systemic level have received optimistic signals lately from someone they have hoped would be helpful to them: President Obama.

In his second inaugural address last month, Obama encouraged people who have long argued for him to sign an executive order that would effectively ban discrimination based on sexual orientation by federal contractors. This would affect a wide swath of the domestic workforce -- roughly 16 million employees, or about 20 percent of the total workforce in the United States.

As it stands now, there are no federal laws specifically banning sexual orientation discrimination. There are laws in place that cover discrimination based on race, national origin and sex, but not sexual orientation. Additionally many states have laws that have addressed sexual orientation discrimination, and many of the country's biggest employers already have internal policies in place that even involve issues such as gender identity.

Advocates see this as the perfect time for the president to issue such an order. Recent elections showed voters more willing to accept gay marriage -- nine states now permit same-sex couples to get married -- and 42 percent of the states prohibit sexual orientation discrimination. A spokesman said the administration was not yet ready to issue such an order, but he did not rule it out from happening in the near future.

Source: Associated Press, "LGBT advocates seek ban on employment discrimination," Jan. 24, 2013

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