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April 06, 2004

One Hand Bush Doesn't Support Gays. On The Other ...

Frankly these kind of parsing of views from Bush is more meaningful than "what the meaning of 'is.' " Does Bush support or not support the rights of gays to be 100 percent American citizens? Or does he only do so as far as he is legally bound to do so?

I think the answer at every step is clear.

Bush Gay Discrimination Policy Affirmed

Apr 1, 6:16 PM (ET) | By APARNA H. KUMAR

WASHINGTON (AP) - The White House on Thursday affirmed President Bush's support for protecting gay federal workers from discrimination because of their sexual orientation - a month after the official he appointed to enforce that policy put it on hold.

"The president believes that no federal employee should be subject to unlawful discrimination," White House spokesman Trent Duffy said. "That's long-standing federal policy that prevents discrimination based on sexual orientation."

On Wednesday, a group of Democrats in Congress urged Bush to overturn a decision by Scott Bloch, head of the Office of Special Counsel, to deny federal workers legal recourse through his agency for sexual-orientation discrimination.

The independent agency [whose chief is appointed by the President - yeah, some independence] investigates and prosecutes claims by federal employees and job applicants about discrimination, sexual harassment and retaliation against whistleblowers.

Bloch, a lawyer from Lawrence, Kan., took office in January after the Senate confirmed his nomination by Bush for a five-year term.

On Thursday, Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., an openly gay House member, said the White House statement did not go far enough. "We were told the president effectively disagrees with Bloch," Frank said. "Now we want to know, what are you going to do about it?"

In response, Duffy said, "The federal agencies will fully enforce the laws prohibiting discrimination in the workplace." He would not comment on what action, if any, would be taken to reconcile the two policies.

Bloch announced in late February that the agency had removed references to sexual orientation from its Web site and complaint forms. He later said that sexual orientation is not covered as a "conduct" as defined by the 1978 Civil Service Reform Act.

That law forbids discrimination "on the basis of conduct which does not adversely affect the performance of the employee or applicant or the performance of others." Asked Thursday whether the White House would ask or direct the agency to restore sexual orientation to its list of "race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age or handicapping condition" that can be causes of discrimination claims, Duffy said, "That would be speculation."

An agency spokeswoman said Thursday the White House had not contacted the agency directly with the president's views and that the agency was formulating a response. Bloch would not comment.

A 1998 executive order by President Clinton explicitly prohibited sexual orientation discrimination in the federal government. That policy remains in effect at the Office of Personnel Management, which oversees the federal workforce. [An executive order which, until reversed, is law and adds to that 1978 Civil Service Reform Act. Touch to figure out for a lawyer such as Bloch or just a complete disregard of the law for religious purposes?]

Frank said the White House had still not responded to a mid-March letter signed by 70 Democratic lawmakers last month asking the president to repudiate Bloch. He said they planned to send another letter urging further action.