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WASHINGTON — President Obama signed an executive order Monday expanding the protections for federal workers and contractors from discrimination based on sexual orientation.

"In too many states and in too many workplaces, simply being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender can still be a fireable offense," Obama said. "So I firmly believe that it's time to address this injustice for every American."

Since President Bill Clinton, the federal government has banned discrimination against gays and lesbians in federal employment. Obama's action Monday expanded that protection to transsexuals.

The two-part order also bans discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity for companies receiving federal contracts.

Some religious leaders had called on Obama to include a religious-based exception to the executive order, following the Supreme Court's decision in the Hobby Lobby case June 30. The court ruled that closely held companies with religious objections cannot be forced to provide coverage for certain contraception or abortion-inducing drugs.

The order Obama signed Monday stopped short of that. It does, however, maintain a provision from a 2002 executive order signed by President George W. Bush that exempts religious organizations that discriminate based on religious beliefs.

A number of more liberal religious leaders attended the signing ceremony Monday in the East Room of the White House, and frequently shouted "Amen!" during Obama's speech.

Obama told a crowd of a few hundred gay rights activists, religious leaders and lawmakers that their "passionate advocacy and the irrefutable rightness of your cause" led to Monday's action.

Broader legislation banning employment discrimination against gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transsexuals passed the Senate last year, but the House of Representatives has not acted on it.

Follow @gregorykorte on Twitter.

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