Back when Barack Obama was making his first run for president in 2008, he promised to "place the weight of (his) administration behind … a fully inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act to outlaw workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity."
That was a pretty bold stance at the time. In fact, in his first presidential run, Obama was unwilling to back same-sex marriage. "I believe marriage is between a man and a woman," he said in November 2008. "I am not in favor of gay marriage."
Obama eventually became a vocal supporter of same-sex marriage. And he also spent years of his tenure in the White House championing employment non-discrimination.
His highest-profile support came on behalf of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, a bill that was offered in various incarnations for several Congresses running. After years without success, the 2013 version of the bill passed the Senate, 64-32, with the help of 10 Republicans. But in the Republican-controlled House, the GOP leadership kept it from advancing to a vote.
The White House lent its support to the 2013 bill, releasing an official statement of administration policy that said it "strongly supports Senate passage" of the bill. "Workers should not fear being fired from their jobs, harassed at their workplaces, or otherwise denied the chance to earn a living for themselves and their families, simply because of sexual orientation or gender identity," the statement said.
For the next Congress, sponsors changed the name of the bill to the Equality Act due to the addition of several new protections, including in the areas of housing, access to public places, federal funding, credit, education and jury service.
The Obama administration supported the new bill as well. The administration "strongly supported and aggressively pushed for the passage" of the Equality Act, said Michael Sparks, a spokesman for Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., who was a leading Democratic supporter of several of the non-discrimination bills.
However, with the Senate newly joining the House under Republican control after the 2014 midterms, the Equality Act did not advance to a vote in either chamber.
To get around congressional opposition, Obama used other tools at his disposal instead.
On July 21, 2014, Obama signed Executive Order 13672, which prohibited federal contractors and subcontractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. The resulting regulations took effect on April 8, 2015.
And on a related issue, in May 2016, the Justice and Education departments said that public schools must let transgender students use their choice of gender-divided facilities such as bathrooms and locker rooms. The administration threatened to withhold federal funds from states that did not comply with this policy, but more than a dozen states objected, and U.S. District Court Judge Reed O'Connor of the Northern District of Texas issued an injunction against the government. Separately, the Justice Department challenged North Carolina's HB 2 "bathroom bill." The issue may eventually be decided by the Supreme Court.
Despite these accomplishments, the reality is that, due to congressional opposition, Obama's extensive advocacy efforts ultimately failed to result in a non-discrimination legislation that included sexual orientation and gender identity for the entire population. This means the promise has not been fulfilled, so it rates a Promise Broken.