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Charity leaders push back against Obama’s gay-rights order

Scott Ableman

In the wake of the controversial Hobby Lobby decision by the US Supreme Court, a group of religious leaders, including those from major Christian charities, are appealing for an exemption to a proposed LGBT non-discrimination order. The White House is poised to issue an executive order banning all federal contractor from discriminating based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

That means groups like World Vision, World Relief and Catholic Charities will need ensure that they are not discriminating against LGBT individuals if they want government money to support their work.  In a letter to the President, allies of Obama call on him to issue an exemption for faith-based groups.

“Religious organizations, because of their religious faith, have served their nation well forcenturies, as you have acknowledged and supported time and time again. We hope that religious organizations can continue to do so, on equal footing with others, in the future,” says the letter.

“A religious exemption in your executive order on LGBT employment rights would allow for this, balancing the government’s interest in protecting both LGBT Americans, as well as the religious organizations that seek to serve in accordance with their faith and values.”

The main argument of the letter is that the hiring practices of religious organizations are connected to the principles that guide the way each one works. The loss of money, they say, will limit their ability to do good work, thus harming the country. Supporters of rumored White House decision say the executive order will do the opposite and help the country.

“By issuing an executive order prohibiting federal contractors from discriminating against LGBT people, the President will not only create fairer workplaces across the country, he will demonstrate to Congress that adopting federal employment protections for LGBT people is good policy and good for business. The White House statement…is promising, and we look forward to seeing the details of the executive order,” said Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign,

A ruling this week from the Supreme Court determined that corporations could claim exemption from covering contraceptives in employee insurance plans, on religious grounds. Advocates cheered the decision as a win for religious freedom. Opponents said that it was a major blow to women’s rights.

The letter requesting a hiring exemption is being seen as yet another battle between rights advocates and religious freedom supporters. Among the signatories of the letter were the CEO and Vice President for Policy & Advocacy for the international aid organization World Relief. This is not a new area for the humanitarian sector.

In March, the Seattle-based charity World Vision, one of the largest charities in the US, announced and then rescinded its decision to start hiring married gay staff. A strong backlash from World Vision supporters is what led the organization to reverse its stance in only a matter of two days.

With millions of dollars on the line, a lack of exemption in the White House’s executive order would leave World Vision ineligible for contracts through the United States Agency for International Development and other government agencies.


About Author

Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]