Persecution, Mozilla, and Gay Rights

Who is the bully? Who is the victim? Is it former Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich? Or is it the many LGBT people who might not have equal marriage rights?

Unless you’re living under a rock, you’ve heard the story by now. Co-founder and former Chief Technology Officer of Mozilla Brendan Eich recently resigned from his new job as Chief Executive Officer. Why? In 2008, he donated $1000 to support California’s Proposition 8. The Proposition would have banned same-sex marriage. His donation caused such a backlash against Mozilla that Eich resigned.

Throughout the furor, Eich made conciliatory noises about the values of diversity and tolerance, but he did not abjure his political beliefs against gay marriage. For many in the tech community, such beliefs are tantamount to bigotry and politicized hatred. To be against gay marriage, for many folks (full disclosure: I include myself in this group), implies a willingness to deny equal legal rights to a category of people. This is the very definition of bigotry. Such a position, pro-gay-marriage activists insist, is akin to denying people the right to marry across the race line.

In short, by opposing gay marriage, Eich defined himself as a bully and a bigot. To oppose gay marriage, many felt, puts Eich and his ilk beyond the pale of civil society.

In the conservative intellectual community, of course, the shoe is on the other foot. Conservatives insist that the bullying is being done by the pro-gay-marriage crowd. How is it “tolerant,” conservatives ask, when successful business leaders are forced to step down strictly because of their political beliefs? The bigots here, conservatives argue, are those who won’t allow a true intellectual or political diversity. The real bullies, conservatives say, are those who won’t allow for any disagreement with their worldview.

As usual, one of the most perspicacious articulations of these positions came recently from Princeton’s Robert George. In the pages of First Thoughts, George argued the case that the victims here were religious folks. Anti-Eich-ism, George asserts, threatens to squeeze religious folks out of the public sphere entirely. As Professor George puts it,

Now that the bullies have Eich’s head as a trophy on their wall, they will put the heat on every other corporation and major employer. They will pressure them to refuse employment to those who decline to conform their views to the new orthodoxy. And you can also bet that it won’t end with same-sex marriage. Next, it will be support for the pro-life cause that will be treated as moral turpitude in the same way that support for marriage is treated. Do you believe in protecting unborn babies from being slain in the womb? Why, then: “You are a misogynist. You are a hater of women. You are a bigot. We can’t have a person like you working for our company.” And there will be other political and moral issues, too, that will be treated as litmus tests for eligibility for employment. The defenestration of Eich by people at Mozilla for dissenting from the new orthodoxy on marriage is just the beginning.

Are conservatives the victims here? Is it legitimate political activism to oppose same-sex marriage? Or is it bigotry and intolerance?