Public officials can’t pick when to do their duty

Tiffany Morrison holds up an order from Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore denying same-sex marriage licenses in February 2015.
Tiffany Morrison holds up an order from Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore denying same-sex marriage licenses in February 2015. Associated Press file

The tied vote on the Supreme Court last month to block executive action for immigrants trapped by broken federal policy represents a dangerous trend in public service.

It reflects the failure by the U.S. House to take up immigration reform passed by the Senate in 2013 and the failure of the Senate since March to even consider President Barack Obama’s nominee for the vacant seat on the high court.

It also highlights the refusal of county clerks like Kim Davis in Kentucky or judges like Roy Moore in Alabama to respect the rule of law and do their job when that means issuing a marriage license to LGBT Americans.

Just imagine if other public servants, such as first responders to the mass shooting at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub, selectively shirked their duty. The pattern of uncivil disobedience in public service is so corrosive to fair play and good government that it needs to be debated in this election as we decide once more what kind of country we want.

Only the intervention of Justices Anthony Kennedy and Stephen Breyer of California allowed the Supreme Court to avoid a tie and send a clear message that denying access to safe and legal abortion to Texas women is unconstitutional.

Simultaneous with this abortion ruling, a federal judge in Mississippi pushed back on a law approved by state lawmakers permitting clerks to deny marriage licenses to same-sex couples. “The marriage license issue will not be adjudicated anew after each legislative session,” wrote U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves.

It also shouldn’t take a federal case to reject the notion that any private belief, religious or otherwise, justifies a public official treating LGBT people without dignity or fairness and refusing equal protection of the law.

But too many candidates still win office by appealing to bias against immigrants, LGBT people, Latinos, Muslims and women. This means that sometimes our democracy is not self-correcting. That’s especially true when some of those candidates become lawmakers who enact barriers to casting ballots in the first place.

Whether or not one supports President Obama, it is worth noting that a central premise of his public service is making real the nation’s guarantee of equal opportunity for all in a nation scarred by long-standing divisions and distrust of government.

Public service in any form is an awesome responsibility. Filling open seats on the nation’s highest court, fixing our federal immigration laws, ensuring women’s access to reproductive health care, performing all functions of government on equal terms for LGBT people – these are ground rules for responsible public service.

Insisting on accountability to this standard is a big part of what my vote this election will be about.

Luis López, a nonprofit healthcare executive, serves on the board of Planned Parenthood Los Angeles and is co-founder of the state’s first LGBT Latino political organization. He can be contacted at