Civil Rights

Watch as President Obama signs the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act

Strengthening Anti-Discrimination Laws

The first piece of legislation President Obama signed into law was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act, which empowers women to recover wages lost to discrimination by extending the time period in which an employee can file a claim. The President continues to advocate for passage of the Paycheck Fairness Act, common sense legislation that would give women additional tools to fight pay discrimination. And President Obama convened a National Equal Pay Task Force to ensure that existing equal pay laws are fully enforced. The Task Force has helped women recover millions in lost wages, built collaborative training programs that educate employees about their rights and inform employers of their obligations, and facilitated an unprecedented level of inter-agency coordination to improve enforcement of equal pay laws.

The President signed into law the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which extends the coverage of Federal hate crimes law to include attacks based on the victim’s actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) is vigorously enforcing laws to combat discrimination in schools, housing, and the workplace. President Obama requested two years of double-digit budget increases to the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division, which was previously hamstrung by drastic budget cuts. DOJ also has reached three multi-million dollar settlements, including the largest rental discrimination and fair lending settlements in its history.

President Obama also continues to support the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and believes that our anti-discrimination employment laws should be expanded to include sexual orientation and gender identity.

Expanding Equality

President Obama pushed for the repeal of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” in his first State of the Union address, and followed through on that commitment when he signed the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal Act of 2010 into law. Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell ended for good on September 20, 2011, allowing gay men and women to serve openly in the U.S. military.

The President and Attorney General announced in February 2011 that the Department of Justice would no longer defend Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) against equal protection constitutional challenges brought by same-sex couples married under state law. President Obama also has expressed his support for the Respect for Marriage Act, legislation that would repeal DOMA and uphold the principle that the federal government should not deny gay and lesbian couples the same rights and legal protections as other couples. On May 9, 2012, President Obama also expressed his support for same-sex marriage. In an interview with ABC News, the President said he believes it's important to "treat others the way you would want to be treated."

Following a Presidential Memorandum issued by the President, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) now requires all hospitals receiving Medicare or Medicaid funds – just about every hospital in America – to respect the right of all patients to choose who may visit them during a hospital stay, including a visitor who is a a same-sex domestic partner. The President also directed HHS to ensure that medical decision-making rights of LGBT patients are respected.

President Obama signed a memorandum expanding federal benefits for the same-sex partners of Foreign Service and executive branch government employees.

The President signed the Claims Resolution Act of 2010 providing funding and statutory authorities for the settlement agreements reached in the Cobell lawsuit, brought by Native Americans; the Pigford II lawsuit, brought by African American farmers; and four separate water rights suits, brought by Native American tribes.

Reforming Criminal Justice

The President is leading the fight to build a fairer and more equitable criminal justice system. On August 3, 2010, President Obama signed the Fair Sentencing Act, which reduces the disparity in the amounts of powder cocaine and crack cocaine required to trigger certain penalties in the federal system, including imposition of mandatory minimum sentences. For years, this arbitrary discrepancy had an unfair and a disproportionate impact on racial minorities.

The President continues to support funding for drug courts, which give first-time, non-violent offenders a chance to serve their sentence, if appropriate, in drug rehabilitation programs that have proven to work better than prison terms in changing behavior.

President Obama has worked to reduce recidivism and improve strategies that allow formerly incarcerated individuals to rejoin society successfully. The Administration convened a Cabinet-level Federal Interagency Reentry Council that brought together twenty federal agencies with the goal of removing barriers to successful reentry. The Council’s ongoing work has already resulted in improvements in employment and job retention strategies, substance abuse treatment, housing stability, and mental health counseling for those returning from prison or jail.

It Gets Better

President Obama and Vice President Biden are encouraging LGBT youth who are being bullied or harassed because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.