U.S. President Barack Obama has signed two executive orders to prohibit discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) government workers and contractors.
As gay rights supporters cheered at a White House ceremony Monday, Obama said he firmly believes it is time to curb workplace discrimination against gays.
"We are on the right side of history," the president said.
Aside from employees working directly for the government, the president’s orders will impact 24,000 companies that employ 28 million workers, or about one-fifth of the U.S. workforce. He said the federal government's contracts should not subsidize discrimination.
The president again urged Congress to issue a more sweeping law to apply to workers across the United States, not just those working for the federal government.
He said that in "too many states" gay workers can lose their jobs simply because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Some religious groups and conservatives urged Obama to provide a broad exemption in his gay rights executive orders for those with religious views against gay equality, but he refused.
The Human Rights Campaign, a prominent LGBT rights group, said Obama's orders "will have a very real and immediate impact on the lives of millions of LGBT people across the country."
The Obama orders update two separate orders signed by previous presidents.
One, signed in 1965 by President Lyndon Johnson, bars discrimination against federal contractors on the basis of race, religion, gender or nationality. The new order will add sexual orientation and gender identity to the list.
The other order, introduced by President Richard Nixon in 1969, prohibits discrimination against federal employees based on race, religion, gender, nationality, age or disability. President Bill Clinton added sexual orientation to that list in 1998, and Obama's order will further add gender identity.