Obama Signs Executive Orders Protecting LGBT Employees

President Obama signed two Executive Orders today that will protect employees of the federal government and its contractors and subcontractors from being discriminated against based on their sexual orientation and gender identity.

The orders are amendments to previous orders from two administrations of the 1960s.

Executive Order 11246, issued by President Lyndon Johnson in 1965, prohibits discrimination by federal contractors on the basis of race, color, sex, religion, and natural origin. Obama's order added " sexual orientation" and "gender identity" to the list and applies to "24,000 companies designated as federal contractors whose 28 million workers make up a fifth of the country's workforce," according to Jonathan Capehart of the Washington Post.

This isn't the first time Johnson's order has been amended. In 2002, President George W. Bush added a protection that would permit religiously affiliated entities to favor members of their own faith when making hiring decisions.

'Between a Man and a Woman' to Be Deleted from California Law Books

Gov. Jerry Brown has signed legislation to ensure that language used in California's code books reflect the right of same-sex couples to marry. The law, Senate Bill 1306, will replace terms of traditional marriage like "husband" and "wife" and ascribe non-discriminatory, gender-neutral language, such as using "spouse."

"What this law will do is it will catch up our state law and statutes so they are in line with last year's Supreme Court decision, which restored the right to marry in California," said Steve Roth, spokesperson for Equality California, which supported the bill.

The changes in language to the codified law will make it clearer for courts, state agencies, and individuals to understand that all spouses in California -- regardless of gender -- have the same rights, explained Catherine Sakimura, family law director and supervising attorney at the National Center for Lesbian Rights. "There are several places where the statutes explaining the process of entering a marriage use gendered phrases, and these are changed to be gender neutral."

5 California Victories Since the Civil Rights Act of 1964

Today marks the anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Fifty years ago, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed a law ending the notion that Americans could be "separate but equal," paving the way for voting rights and racial equality.

"The Civil Rights Act is a living, breathing document that makes clear there are certain fundamental rights. It makes clear that there shall be equal access to education; equal access to the workplace; equal access to public accommodation; and equal
access to the ballot box," Attorney General Kamala Harris said in a statement.

Indeed, the Civil Rights Act also created a path to gender and religious equality, as well as protections from discrimination based on sexual orientation. Same-sex marriage is now legal in 19 states and the District of Columbia -- much of that battle for equality was fought here in California during the landmark battle over Proposition 8. The Americans with Disabilities Act made it illegal to discriminate based on disabilities. Among other cases, "Roe v. Wade" laid the foundation for California to become one of the states that is most protective of women's reproductive choice.

"In many respects, California is a leader in civil rights," says Bill Celis, an expert in education and civil rights at USC. "The state's 1959 civil rights act preceded President Johnson's landmark 1964 civil rights bill by five years. In school desegregation, the 'Mendez v. Westminster' case on school desegregation predates 'Brown v. Board of Education' by eight years, and California parents won in 1971 a case in which the state was forced by a federal court to offer equal funding of all public schools."

These were hard-fought victories, Celis admits, but he says what makes them special beyond the ground they broke is the diligence with which both the state and its judiciary system protected the decisions.

While these milestones don't mark the end of discrimination or rights violations, they demonstrate the legacy of a 50-year path to greater civil liberties in our country. Here, we look back at a few moments that had a significant impact on the Golden State.

Changing Birth Certificates Now Easier for Transgender People

California's form to amend a birth certificate.

Transgender Californians seeking changes to their name and gender identities on birth certificates will no longer need to go through a lengthy and exploitative legal process. Effective today, individuals seeking a name change on a birth certificate are no longer required to publish their reflected name in a local newspaper. Additionally, they will no longer be required to attend a court hearing prior to authenticating the request.

"These new protections were created to improve the safety and privacy needs of transgender people seeking to obtain accurate and consistent identity documents," said Danny Kirchoff from the Transgender Law Center.

AB 1121, authored by Speaker Toni G. Atkins in 2013, ensures that one's gender identity is accurately represented on legal documents.

The bill was co-sponsored by the Transgender Law Center and Equality California, and aims to make it easier for transgender people to seek changes to properly reflect one's gender identity without going through so much red tape.

ACLU Seeks Alternatives For Mentally Ill Heading to Jail

The ACLU and Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law released a report on Tuesday outlining recommendations that would help establish alternatives to jail that would better serve inmates with mental illness who have been charged with non-violent offenses.

There are approximately 3,200 inmates diagnosed with severe mental illness in the county, according to the report, which found that these inmates are jailed longer and are more likely to cycle in and out of jail.

Hobby Lobby Ruling Leaves Religious Groups Divided

It's an infamous line that haunted Mitt Romney's political campaign and sparked public outrage in 2011, ranging from the Occupy movement's 99 percent to the likes of comedians and reporters who took jabs at the politician for a few easy laughs.

"Corporations are people, my friend."

But just four years after the high court's controversial "Citizens United" ruling that for-profit corporations have free speech rights, Romney's comment is hardly a joke -- the decision has made way for another victory for corporations: for the first time, they now have religious rights.

The Supreme Court's ideologically split 5-4 decision on Monday that "closely held" religious companies are not required to provide contraceptive care under federal healthcare laws has left California's faith communities sharply divided, setting off a debate in which some groups decry the ruling, while others celebrate it as one of the most significant victories for religious freedom in decades.

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