US President Barack Obama will sign an executive order banning federal contractors from discriminating against workers for their sexual orientation or gender identity, the White House has said.
Officials would not say when Obama would sign the order or why the administration was taking the unusual step of previewing his plans for issuing such a measure.
The president has resisted signing the order in the hope Congress would pass a broader non-discrimination measure that would apply to nearly all employers. While the Senate passed legislation last year, the measure has languished in the Republican-led House and there is little sign lawmakers will take it up in an election year.
"We've been waiting for quite a few months now for the House to take action and unfortunately there are no particularly strong indications that Congress is prepared to act on this," White House spokesman Josh Earnest said.
The White House's announcement was a significant victory for gay rights advocates, who widely praised Obama's decision.
While Obama lacks the authority to extend that protection to all Americans, the order being drafted by the White House would affect about 14 million workers whose employers or states do not ban workplace discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals.
The scope of the measure was tabulated by the Williams Institute at UCLA Law School, which studies sexual orientation and gender identity law and public policy.
"By issuing an executive order prohibiting federal contractors from discriminating against LGBT people, the president will not only create fairer workplaces across the country, he will demonstrate to Congress that adopting federal employment protections for LGBT people is good policy and good for business," said Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign.
While the White House did not release the language of the order Obama will sign, advocates expect it to be in line with measures signed by US president Lyndon Johnson that banned federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of race, religion and national origin. It's unclear if Obama's order will include religious exemptions.
The public has grown increasingly supportive of extending gay rights. Courts have also increasingly come down in favour of same-sex marriage.Topics: Focus