I’m not much of a joiner, but I was more than glad to sign the joint statement by a wide array of supporters of marriage equality, gay and straight, declaring our commitment both to open and respectful, if robust, debate, and to ensuring that gay people have their fundamental constitutional right to marry. You can read the statement here. Money quote:
As a viewpoint, opposition to gay marriage is not a punishable offense. It can be expressed hatefully, but it can also be expressed respectfully. We strongly believe that opposition to same-sex marriage is wrong, but the consequence of holding a wrong opinion should not be the loss of a job. Inflicting such consequences on others is sadly ironic in light of our movement’s hard-won victory over a social order in which LGBT people were fired, harassed, and socially marginalized for holding unorthodox opinions.
LGBT Americans can and do demand to be treated fairly. But we also recognize that absolute agreement on any issue does not exist. Franklin Kameny, one of America’s earliest and greatest gay-rights proponents, lost his job in 1957 because he was gay. Just as some now celebrate Eich’s departure as simply reflecting market demands, the government justified the firing of gay people because of “the possible embarrassment to, and loss of public confidence in . . . the Federal civil service.” Kameny devoted his life to fighting back. He was both tireless and confrontational in his advocacy of equality, but he never tried to silence or punish his adversaries.
Now that we are entering a new season in the debate that Frank Kameny helped to open, it is important to live up to the standard he set. Like him, we place our confidence in persuasion, not punishment. We believe it is the only truly secure path to equal rights.
Read the whole thing. We felt it necessary to take a joint, public stand, in the wake of the illiberal response to the Eich affair and some truly troubling sentiments in favor of shutting opponents up, demonizing rather than engaging, intimidating rather than persuading. Conor comments here; Peter Berkowitz here. The statement is also open for anyone to sign and join us in affirming these principles. Add your name here, if you want.
(Photo: Posters and placards from some of the very first public protests in defense of gay equality – from the Frank Kameny archive)
A reader ties together two of the big stories from the week:
As I was reading your nightly wrap-up before heading out to work, something struck me that infuriated me (and for the first time in, like, a week, it wasn’t you, so progress!). I still disagree vehemently on your views on the Eich affair, and I think I also disagree with you on Ayaan Hirsi Ali as well. Both were casualties of social norms, and while they have the freedom to say whatever they want, that right only affords them protection from government interference in their views – not public shaming. You have essentially said as much when criticizing the whiny way some of your (and my) favorite Christian conservative writers (Dreher, Douthat) have approached the sea change of marriage equality opinion throughout the country.
We’re obviously not going to agree much on the distinction here. But I think I’ve found a place where we can find some common ground: what the hell have the organizing bodies been thinking?
In the Brendan Eich affair, it seems to me, there are, beneath the fury and the name-calling, two core narratives in conflict, and they are driven by two different approaches to politics. For the sake of argument, let’s call one a progressive vision and the other a liberal one. Here’s Jon Lovett making a fundamentally liberal point:
The trouble, I think, is when ostracizing a viewpoint as “beyond the pale” becomes not an end but a means to an end; that by declaring something unsayable, we make it so. It makes me uncomfortable, even as I see the value of it. I for one would love homophobia to fully make it on that list [of impermissible opinions], to get to the point where being against gay marriage is as vulgar and shameful as being against interracial marriage. But it isn’t. Maybe it will be. But it isn’t. And kicking a reality-show star off his reality show doesn’t make that less true. Win the argument; don’t declare the argument too offensive to be won. And that’s true whether it’s GLAAD making demands of A&E or the head of the Republican National Committee making demands of MSNBC.
The bottom line is, you don’t beat an idea by beating a person. You beat an idea by beating an idea.
Then there is another approach, in which creating a progressive culture in which some things are unsayable is the whole point of the exercise. Here’s a piece by J. Brian Lowder with that perspective. Money quote:
Tim Teeman wrote on Friday that “the ‘shame’ axis around homosexuality has positively shifted from those who are gay to those who are anti-gay.” He may be right about that, but speaking personally, I am not interested in shaming anyone; it would be enough for me if those people who are so ignorant or intransigent as to still be anti-gay in 2014 would simply shut up.
This is not a minor disagreement. It’s a profound one. One side wants to continue engaging the debate. The other wants one side to shut up. I think you also see this difference in the responses to Jon Chait’s new piece on race in the age of Obama. Progressives see the scale of the historically-loaded injustice that African-Americans face every day and cavil at any attempts to minimize or qualify the iniquity of those on the right who still deploy its rhetorical codes. Liberals still insist on some fairness, on not jumping to conclusions about an entire party’s or a single person’s racism, on seeing that human beings are not so simple as to be reduced to such ideas as “hate”, on maintaining some kind of civil discourse which right and left can engage in, which eschews too-easy charges of bigotry.
One seeks to get to a place where a conversation ends. The other seeks never to end the conversation, and, in fact, gets a little queasy when any topic is ruled out of bounds in a free society.
Maybe if we can appreciate both traditions, we can see the underlying forces behind this debate more clearly. My own instincts on the gay rights question have always been classically liberal/small-c conservative/libertarian. I think hate is an eternal part of the human condition, and that ridding oneself of it is a personal, moral duty not a collective, political imperative. I never want to live in a society in which homophobes feel obliged to shut up. I believe their freedom is indivisible from ours. Their hate only says something about them, not me. I oppose hate crime laws for those reasons. And my attachment to open debate means constantly allowing even the foulest sentiments to be expressed – the better to confront them, expose them and also truly persuade people of the wrongness of their views – rather than pressuring them into submission or silence. Others have a different vision: that such bigotry needs extra punishment by the state (hence hate-crime laws), that bigots need to be constantly shamed, and that because of the profound evil of such thoughts, social pressure should be brought to bear to silence them. More to the point, past sins have to be recanted and repented before such bigots are allowed back into the conversation.
This is a very old fault-line in civil rights movements, and it’s amazing that the gay rights movement has been able to keep these divisions at bay as we fight for basic equality. That may now begin to change, if only because an entire generation has now grown up having deeply internalized their self-worth, and are thereby rightly all the more affronted by those still resistant to it. I understand that entirely, and am glad for this shift in consciousness – especially since I spent much of my adult life trying to bring it about. It’s wonderful for me to read young gay writers insist on their non-negotiable and full equality in terms of marriage – if only because I tried to make that case decades ago to a great deal of bewilderment and dismissal from many. This is indeed great news, as Frank Bruni noted. And, when couched in positive, constructive terms, it has won more converts among more straight people than most of us ever dreamed of.
But liberalism, for me, is not a means to a progressive end. It is an end in itself.
Thank you for the hundreds and hundreds of emails about the Mozilla-Eich affair. My readers overwhelmingly disagree with me for a host of reasons. But I have to say that this time, the more I have mulled this over, the more convinced I am that my initial response to this is absolutely the right one. And not just the right one, but a vital one to defend at this juncture in the gay rights movement.
So let me concede all of the opposing arguments that have been deployed to defend the public shaming and resignation of Brendan Eich. To recap those points: This was not the “gay left” as such, but the “techie straight left” more broadly. Sure (I’ve been to San Francisco). He wasn’t fired; he resigned. Undisputed. Mozilla is not your usual company. Obviously not. Being CEO is different than being just a regular employee and requires another standard. Sure. It doesn’t matter because we’re all marching toward victory anyway. Well, probably. This was a function of market forces and the First Amendment. You won’t get me to disagree about that.
So why am I more convinced that what just happened still matters, and matters a lot? I think it’s because these arguments avoid the core, ugly truth of what happened. Brendan Eich was regarded as someone whose political beliefs and activities rendered him unsuitable for his job. In California, if an employer had fired an employee for these reasons, he would be breaking the law:
1102. No employer shall coerce or influence or attempt to coerce or influence his employees through or by means of threat of discharge or loss of employment to adopt or follow or refrain from adopting or following any particular course or line of political action or political activity.
Now Eich was not in that precise position. He resigned as CEO under duress because of his political beliefs. The letter of the law was not broken. But what about the spirit of the law?
The ability to work alongside or for people with whom we have a deep political disagreement is not a minor issue in a liberal society. It is a core foundation of toleration. We either develop the ability to tolerate those with whom we deeply disagree, or liberal society is basically impossible. Civil conversation becomes culture war; arguments and reason cede to emotion and anger. And let me reiterate: this principle of toleration has recently been attacked by many more on the far right than on the far left. I’m appalled, for example, at how great gay teachers have been fired by Catholic schools, even though it is within the right of the schools to do so. It’s awful that individuals are fired for being gay with no legal recourse all over the country. But if we rightly feel this way about gays in the workplace, why do we not feel the same about our opponents? And on what grounds can we celebrate the resignation of someone for his off-workplace political beliefs? Payback? Revenge? Some liberal principles, in my view, are worth defending whether they are assailed by left or right.
I’m then informed that opposition to marriage equality is not just a political belief. It’s a profound insight into whether someone is a decent moral person or a bigot. And this belief is also held with absolute certainty – the same absolute certainty of righteousness that many Christianists have.
When you’ve lost Bill Maher, you’ve lost a lot of people:
A reader writes:
I’m one of those lefty queer liberals you are always sneering about, but you are right about this one. This whole episode has the air of the lynch mob about it and I am disappointed with people.
I read what you wrote about your disgust with gay “fanaticism” and I couldn’t agree more. I came out of a very cultish Christian church that hated women, gays and anything cultured, but I still consider myself spiritual (and Christian) and want to have a daily relationship with the Holy Spirit. Over dinner the other night, three other like-minded gays and myself discussed the schisms in the church, and how common sense was often jettisoned in order to tow the party line. And then we talked about how we don’t like how the gay community is doing the same exact thing. We are all for gay rights and equality and acceptance, but at the point that we no longer have grace for anyone else’s viewpoints, we have become the very thing we abhor.
I am a Christian who vocally supported the rights of gays to marry for many years – and did so in rural Texas, where doing so actually meant you were risking something. Sorry to say now that I regret it. Not because it was wrong to support gay marriage, but because the gay community apparently will not extend to me as a Christian the same respect. First it was wedding cakes and flower arrangements, now this. Not to be overly dramatic, but it seems I basically signed my own death warrant with respect to religious freedom. I guess I was naive not to expect this type of blowback.
Sorry, guys. From here on out, you’re on your own.
I work for Mozilla (please don’t share my name, although I know you have a policy of anonymity anyway), and I have worked closely with Brendan Eich for many years.
Some of the very same people who have jumped up and down with delight as Brandon Eich lost his job will doubtless be backing Hillary Clinton for president in 2016 if she runs. The “Ready for Hillary” ranks are crowded with gay men – and good for them. But it’s worth considering some consistency here. If it is unconscionable to support a company whose CEO once donated to the cause against marriage equality, why is it not unconscionable to support a candidate who opposed marriage equality as recently as 2008, and who was an integral part of an administration that embraced the Defense Of Marriage Act, signed into law by Bill Clinton? How do you weigh the relative impact of a president strongly backing DOMA – even running ads touting his support for it in the South – and an executive who spent $1000 for an anti-marriage equality Proposition?
Hillary Clinton only declared her support for marriage equality in 2013. Before that, she opposed it. In 2000, she said that marriage “has a historic, religious and moral context that goes back to the beginning of time. And I think a marriage has always been between a man and a woman.” Was she then a bigot? On what conceivable grounds can the Democratic party support a candidate who until only a year ago was, according to the latest orthodoxy, the equivalent of a segregationist, and whose administration enacted more anti-gay laws and measures than any in American history?
There is a difference, of course, between Brendan Eich and Hillary Clinton. Eich has truly spoken of the pain he once caused and owned up to it:
“I know some will be skeptical about this, and that words alone will not change anything. I can only ask for your support to have the time to ‘show, not tell’; and in the meantime express my sorrow at having caused pain.”
Has either Hillary Clinton or Bill Clinton ever expressed sorrow that they hurt so many lives, gave cover to some of the vilest homophobes, and credentialized themselves with some on the right by rank homophobia in the 1996 campaign? Not to my knowledge. They have regretted what they did but never taken full moral responsibility for the hurt and pain they caused.
My view is that the Clintons are not and never have been bigots.
“At a time when we are demanding passage of the Employment Non-Discrmination Act so that companies can’t just up and fire LGBT employees because they don’t agree with them — as they can now in about two-thirds of our states — we need to think very long and hard about we should demand someone be removed from his job for exercising his constitutional rights as part of the cornerstone of our democracy: a free and fair election.
We say that LGBT people shouldn’t be fired for something that has nothing to do with their job performance. I think that principle is good enough to apply to everyone, including Eich. And there is no evidence that I can find that his donation affected his ability to do the job he was hired to do. Eich made his donation out of his own pocket. He didn’t do it on behalf of Mozilla, he didn’t do it with Mozilla funds or through a foundation sponsored by Mozilla. And he certainly didn’t own Mozilla, which is a non-profit organization. It was his own dime on his own time,” – Jim Burroway.
I’d say the gay rights movement just all but provided an amicus brief for Hobby Lobby, wouldn’t you?
Among the scores of upset readers rattling the in-tray:
I’m going to disagree with you, quite strongly, about the resignation of Brendan Eich. While I agree that he is certainly entitled to his point of view, and to take actions in support of that point of view, he is not entitled to face no consequences from those actions. That’s all this is: consequences. If he truly has the strength of his convictions, he will consider this a necessary sacrifice. Were I to loudly proclaim a belief in the inherent inferiority of other ethnicities than my own, and take actions to enshrine that belief into law, would I not reasonably expect to face consequences?
He’s not going to prison; he just has to find a new job. For someone with his abilities, that should not be difficult. I just imagine it will be done more quietly this time.
As I said last night, of course Mozilla has the right to purge a CEO because of his incorrect political views. Of course Eich was not stripped of his First Amendment rights. I’d fight till my last breath for Mozilla to retain that right. What I’m concerned with is the substantive reason for purging him. When people’s lives and careers are subject to litmus tests, and fired if they do not publicly renounce what may well be their sincere conviction, we have crossed a line. This is McCarthyism applied by civil actors. This is the definition of intolerance. If a socially conservative private entity fired someone because they discovered he had donated against Prop 8, how would you feel? It’s staggering to me that a minority long persecuted for holding unpopular views can now turn around and persecute others for the exact same reason. If we cannot live and work alongside people with whom we deeply disagree, we are finished as a liberal society.
Eich certainly has his right to free speech. Where the line should be drawn (Supreme Court decisions notwithstanding) is when somebody’s speech becomes action – in this case, donating to Prop 8. Monetary support to reduce fellow citizens to second-class status should not be enshrined as “protected speech.” He can say what he wants, of course, but we can also say, publicly, that we don’t want to directly fund that sort of politics (since our money given to the company goes to the CEO’s salary).
What if an employee went to a demonstration that his company found objectionable? Would that be a reason to fire him? What we have here is a social pressure to keep your beliefs deeply private for fear of retribution. We are enforcing another sort of closet on others. I can barely believe the fanaticism. Another reader:
There is not a single mainstream company in the world today that would endure a CEO who donated to a neo-Nazi organization, or the KKK, or for a referendum to make interracial marriage illegal. If he were to apologize later, or say it was a mistake, then he might survive. But to be defiant in his support for blatantly anti-Semitic or anti-black causes? No one would survive this. In making our case for marriage equality, we have set the right to marry for homosexuals on the same level as the right to marry inter-racially. This means that the public will respond to those who oppose it just as they would to those who fought to prevent my parents from marrying. And rightly so.
A little history lesson. Not so long ago, many in the gay community itself – including large swathes of its left-liberal wing – opposed marriage equality. I know, because I was targeted by them as a neofascist/heterosexist/patriarchal “anti-Christ”. Yes, I was called precisely that in print for being a conservative supporter of marriage equality and for ending the ban on openly gay people in the military. And I’m talking only a couple of decades ago. And now, opposing marriage equality is regarded as equivalent to the KKK? And neo-Nazis? Another reader tries to catch me in a double standard:
So let me get this straight: It’s perfectly ok to spend money supporting legislation that causes actual, direct harm to gay people, but when Alec Baldwin calls someone names, he should be fired?
I never called for Baldwin to be fired – just that his rank use of homophobia while threatening violence made his claim to be a liberal preposterous. I was calling out hypocrisy. I never campaigned for Baldwin to be punished for this – just that liberals stop defending him as a campaigner for civil rights. The next reader probably has the strongest dissent of them all: