In marking anniversary of Equal Pay Act, Obama extols gay rights

President Obama made a point Monday of commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Equal Pay Act, calling for more action to close the wage gap between men and women.

Making a reference to his own daughters, the president noted that women now earn 77 cents for every dollar a man does, on average."Over the course of her career, a working woman with a college degree will earn on average hundreds of thousands of dollars less than a man who does the same work," Obama said. "Now, that’s wrong. I don’t want that for Malia and Sasha.  I don’t want that for your daughters."

But Obama also used the occasion to speak up for gay rights in the workforce--albeit, in a subtle way. Later in the speech, Obama suggested that Americans should be able to succeed in the workplace regardless of their sexual orientation.

"If we do all this -- and this will be part of our broader agenda to create good jobs and to strengthen middle-class security, to keep rebuilding an economy that works for everybody, that gives every American the chance to get ahead, no matter who you are or what you look like, or what your last name is and who you love," he said.

It is still legal to discriminate in the workplace based on a person's sexual orientation: legislation to change that, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, has been stuck in Congress for several years.

Thirty-seven senators sent Obama a letter in February asking him to issue an executive order prohibiting federal contractors from discriminating against employees based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Current policy already bars federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.

That order has not been issued, and a gay rights activist recently heckled Michelle Obama on the issue during a private fundraiser.

In order to drive home his point on women's rights, the president used humor during Monday's events, noting that women are now the primary breadwinners in 40 percent of U.S. households.

"But what it does mean is that when more women are bringing home the bacon, they shouldn’t just be getting a little bit of bacon," he said, prompting laughter from the audience.

Juliet Eilperin is The Washington Post's White House bureau chief, covering domestic and foreign policy as well as the culture of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. She is the author of two books—one on sharks, and another on Congress, not to be confused with each other—and has worked for the Post since 1998.
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