The Freedom To Marry And The Freedom To Dissent

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 kamenypickets.jpgshould 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)

Where The Hard Left Says No, Ctd

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?

I mean, take the Mozilla board, for example.

They had to practically beg Eich to take the job as CEO. If you’re a board member responsible for hiring the next public face of your company, wouldn’t you try to learn absolutely everything you could about the person you were promoting or hiring before giving him or her the job? Same goes for Brandeis and the Ali speech. Are we to honestly believe that no one in the Brandeis leadership thought that having Ayaan Hirsi Ali deliver a commencement speech would be controversial?

What pisses me off the most about this is that while Eich and Ali are roundly criticized for saying and doing things that are without a doubt intolerant, the governing bodies that are apparently so averse to any semblance of controversy pay absolutely no price whatsoever for making what apparently were, at least in their eyes, hideous mistakes. Brendan Eich resigned, but he wasn’t the one who was given the job in the first place. Ayaan Hirsi Ali was disinvited from Brandeis’s commencement, but none of the people who asked her to speak – and then withdrew the invitation – will pay any price for this. To me, that’s gutless.

Lastly, I want to say thank you. I haven’t thought you were as wrong about something as you are about the Eich affair in years. But you have forced me to think critically about my own position, and to see some of the inherent contradictions therein. By making statements (some of them unfairly directed towards some mythical morass of “liberals”) that get my blood boiling, you’ve caused me to think over my opinions and really flesh them out more broadly. That alone is absolutely worth paying for a subscription. There is no other site on the web that challenges me the way The Dish does.

The Quality Of Mercy, Ctd

Cory Booker Marries Same Sex Couples As NJGay Marriage Law Goes Into Effect

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.

It seeks to guard against groupthink and social pressure as dangerous threats to freedom of thought and of the individual. It aims to protect the rights of bigots as well as the targets of their bigotry. At any one point, that can seem grotesquely unfair. And it is. It is and was deeply unfair that, in order to enjoy some simple basic rights, we gays have had to explain ourselves to the world, listen to our very lives being debated as if we were not in the room, have our lives and loves traduced and distorted and picked over by people who treat us as pawns in a political game or an intellectual exercise. But, you know what? We had no choice if we were to move forward. And, boy, have we moved forward through this difficult process.

I’m not taking this position because – to count some of the milder terms thrown in my direction in the last few days – I have internalized homophobia, I want to leverage others’ suffering for web traffic, I have never done anything to advance gay equality, I am a hypocrite/privileged white male/barebacker/Uncle Tom, and on and on. I’m taking this position because it is my honestly thought-out view. It’s laid out in Virtually Normal, which is emphatically not a progressive book. And it’s because I am also convinced that a liberal approach to politics will lead to – and has led to – more actual justice and a deeper changing of minds.

We have not won the debate this past decade or so because we have constantly exposed others’ hatred, or racked up the number of people we can condemn as homophobes. We have won because we have made the positive and reasoned case for our equal dignity and rights. We have won because we have engaged, not ostracized. And we have won more definitively because of it. How much better to have allowed this free debate to continue and to have actually genuinely changed people’s hearts and minds than to have tried to impose a settlement on the unwilling and unpersuaded, and then demanded they shut up. And this is what I would try to say to my progressive gay friends: if you really want the full justice you rightly believe in, stop trying to close down a debate which we are winning and in which we still have many people to persuade. Of course there’s bigotry and ignorance out there. But calling everyone who disagrees with you a bigot rules out a chance to persuade them, drives them further into a defensive crouch, and prevents us winning the argument in the long run.

If the liberal approach had so demonstratively failed, it would be one thing. But, in this case, it has demonstratively succeeded – perhaps more than any recent social movement. We shouldn’t forget how we got here. Or believe that somehow suddenly different tactics cannot still take this debate in a different direction. They can; and if we are not careful, they will.

(Photos: Getty Images)

The Quality Of Mercy


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.

Let me just say I’ve learned to suspect anyone with absolute moral certainty, whatever position they take. My last book, The Conservative Soul, was precisely an argument against such certainty on the right. What it does is extinguish the space for people to think, change their minds, entertain doubt, listen, and argue. It is absurd to believe that a third of the country recently “hated” gay people and now don’t. It’s incredibly crude to posit that you’re a bigot to oppose marriage equality in 2013, but not in 2008. I remember this argument being used by the hard left when they opposed marriage equality in the 1980s and 1990s (and, yes, they did so then and they were not bigots either). The majority hates us, and will never be persuaded, we were told. Stop your foolish crusade! And yet a decade and a half later, so many minds have changed. So why on earth would we seek to suddenly rush this process and arbitrarily declare that all those we have yet to persuade are ipso facto haters?

And one ugly manifestation of absolute certainty in near-theological movements is their approach to dissidents. Dissidents in these absolutist groups are outlawed, condescended to, pressured, bullied, lied about, trashed, slandered, and distorted out of any recognition. In this case, a geeky genius who invented Javascript and who had pledged total inclusivity in the workplace instantly became the equivalent of a Grand Master in the Ku Klux Klan. And yes, that analogy was – amazingly – everywhere! The actual, complicated, flawed human being was erased by thousands who never knew him but knew enough to hate him. Because that’s all they need to know. No space was really given for meaningful dialogue; and, most importantly, no mercy was given without total public repentance.

I’m sorry but I’m not less disturbed by this manifestation of illiberalism today than I was on Thursday. I’m more so, especially given the craven, mealy-mouthed response of so many to it (yes, Frank, you buried the lede). Read this astonishing post from Mozilla’s Mark Surman. Eich may have been “one of the most inspiring humans that I have ever met” and “a true hero for many of us” but that was not enough:

Many calm and reasonable people said “Brendan, I want you to lead Mozilla. But I also want you to feel my pain.” Brendan didn’t need to change his mind on Proposition 8 to get out of the crisis of the past week. He simply needed to project and communicate empathy. His failure to do so proved to be his fatal flaw as CEO.

Surman says this despite the fact that Eich himself wrote the following:

Here are my commitments, and here’s what you can expect:

  • Active commitment to equality in everything we do, from employment to events to community-building.
  • Working with LGBT communities and allies, to listen and learn what does and doesn’t make Mozilla supportive and welcoming.
  • My ongoing commitment to our Community Participation Guidelines, our inclusive health benefits, our anti-discrimination policies, and the spirit that underlies all of these.
  • My personal commitment to work on new initiatives to reach out to those who feel excluded or who have been marginalized in ways that makes their contributing to Mozilla and to open source difficult. More on this last item below.

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 … I am committed to ensuring that Mozilla is, and will remain, a place that includes and supports everyone, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, age, race, ethnicity, economic status, or religion.

And this was not enough. I’m sorry but Surman is full of shit – as, I might add, is his profoundly intolerant company. Eich begged for mercy; he asked to be given a fair shot to prove he wasn’t David Duke; he directly interacted with those he had hurt. He expressed sorrow. He had not the slightest blemish in his professional record. He had invented JavaScript. He was a hero. He pledged to do all he could to make amends. But none of this is ever enough for Inquisitions – and it wasn’t enough in this case. His mind and conscience were the problem. He had to change them or leave.

A civil rights movement without toleration is not a civil rights movement; it is a cultural campaign to expunge and destroy its opponents. A moral movement without mercy is not moral; it is, when push comes to shove, cruel.

For a decade and half, we have fought the battle for equal dignity for gay people with sincerity, openness, toleration and reason. It appears increasingly as if we will have to fight and fight again to prevent this precious and highly successful legacy from being hijacked by a righteous, absolutely certain, and often hateful mob. We are better than this. And we must not give in to it.

The Hounding Of A Heretic, Ctd

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.

Another writes:

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.

The part that makes me the saddest about this whole story was that the benefit for the equality movement was minimal at best, but the blow this strikes to the movement for an open and healthy Web could be huge. I so wish we had done better over the years at telling Mozilla’s story. (Did you or your readers know we’re a mission-driven, non-profit organization? It’s sad how few people do even to this day.) Brendan was our co-founder, one of our best minds, and one of the most passionate and committed members of the movement to keep the Web from being owned by powerful interests like Google and Microsoft. He was always scrupulous in his professional decorum, and despite a fierce ability to argue a technical or strategic point about Mozilla, I never once saw him treat anyone unfairly or with a hint of malice. But now I have to watch my Facebook feed fill up with stories of my fellow liberals high-fiving each other over the toppling of another ostensible corporate villain.


I am a married heterosexual, a believing Christian and a constitutional conservative who nonetheless voted for gay marriage (for the Nevada constitution) when it came up some years back. My lifelong best friend and long-time business partner is gay. We saw things differently, but he didn’t impose his views on me, and I didn’t impose my views on him.

As a supporter of the Constitution, I support any two consenting adults’ ability to legally marry, because I see nothing in the Constitution to prohibit it, and because I take the 10th Amendment seriously. In addition, and I guess this is the bottom line on this issue, I absolutely support the right of any individual to hold beliefs in and contribute to any legal cause, period.  It’s really nobody’s business – or shouldn’t be – what someone believes and supports – as long as he doesn’t take punitive action against those who hold a different belief.

I’m guessing that the liberal Left doesn’t see that they’ve created a precedent.  And there will be a backlash. Every time a gay activist tries to take a stand on a mainstream issue, he’ll now be vulnerable to charges that he’s a closet McCarthy-like bigot intent on crushing the rights and even the chances of gainful employment of those who dare hold different views. Those gay activists will be marginalized, at least by some, and to some degree.  What good does that do anybody?


I’m a gay man and I guess the most interesting point to me here is a little personal. Although I dislike the term “internalized homophobia” – it has always seemed to miss a necessary amount of nuance and complexity that goes with the whole experience – the fact is, over time, my own internal discomfort or feeling of awkwardness hearing, say, Ellen DeGeneres refer to her wife, or a man refer to his husband – has absolutely changed.

I’ll admit – I had some internal evolving to do too, don’t know how to quite describe it – sort of, feeling it to be remarkable that others were in advance of my own thinking, how could I have been so idiotic, and why (despite your book) didn’t I have the prior guts to even internally stand up for this notion, coming to the same defense of the issue where I am today.

That’s the nuance that’s missing from the stupid absolutism of the Mozilla situation.

Agreed. But when you have absolute certainty that you are right and that you represent goodness and your opponents evil, nuance is irrelevant. As is any semblance of toleration.

By the way, you can reader unfiltered feedback from readers on our Facebook page.

Brendan Eich And Hillary Clinton

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 US President Bill Clinton (l) in picture taken 16considering 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.

They’re human beings in changing times who had good intentions and sometimes failed to live up to them. The same with Brandon Eich, a man with infinitely less power than the Clintons but who nonetheless did the wrong thing. The same with vast numbers of Americans who haven’t yet been persuaded by the winning arguments of those of us who have campaigned for marriage equality for decades.

Human beings are complicated and flawed – gays as well as straights; and a liberal civil society does not attempt to impose on all of them a single moral code, or consign large numbers of them to the “bigot” category because they may be laggards in a civil rights cause. That way lies madness. And the end of a liberal and tolerant society. If you can forgive the Clintons, you should be able to forgive Eich. And have a little magnanimity and restraint before you snatch moral defeat from the jaws of political victory.

(Photo: US President Bill Clinton in picture taken 16 October 1996 in San Diego gets a hug from his wife Hillary after the presidential debate with Republican candidate Bob Dole Shiley Theater. By Mike Nelson/AFP/Getty Images.)

Quote For The Day II

“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?

Dissents Of The Day


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.

Another reader:

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 actualdirect 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:

You wrote, “Eich did not understand that in order to be a CEO of a company, you have to renounce your heresy!” Andrew, you are seriously misreading this. Mozilla is not just any company; it’s the subsidiary of a non-profit, the manager of an open-source project, part collective and part community, and only thrives because the community cooperates, delivering applications, helping out by contributing code, and donating money. A key qualification for a CEO of such a company is that he or she not alienate the community, and Eich simply did not meet that qualification (the board screwed up in hiring him, clearly). I hardly think you’d see the same kind of fireworks if, say, he had been appointed CEO of Oracle.

This is more akin to an opponent of gay marriage being appointed CEO of a company that depends on gay or gay-friendly customers or stakeholders. A public radio station in a gay-friendly metro is a good example. So it’s more like, “in order to be a CEO of an organization dependent on certain stakeholders, you must not offend them.” Seriously, this is news?

And CEO is not just any job; Eich was CTO of Mozilla for many years with nary a peep. But a CEO personifies the company, and the standards are different. Eich then compounded the mistake by eliding the discussion every time he was asked about it. He could have stood by his personal beliefs but drawn a distinction between those and how he intends to isolate them from his ability to lead Mozilla. He could have shown a bit of empathy towards the people victimized by Proposition 8 (many of whom are his customers, employees and partners) without recanting his personal belief (Rarebit, one of Mozilla’s partners that pulled out of the store, has a good take on this here).

He could have done many things, but he was too proud to give people even a fig leaf of an acknowledgment. Instead, he stonewalled, and more insultingly, he wrapped himself in the mantle of tolerance (the whole stuff about Mozilla’s “culture of inclusiveness”), essentially saying, “If you’re really tolerant, you must tolerate my intolerant views and continue to interact with the organization I lead just as before.” Please. He’s entitled to his views, but he’s not entitled to people’s cooperation.

In order to be a CEO of a company, you must be able to lead it. Clearly he couldn’t, because too many people, both employees and external stakeholders, simply would not follow him. He was pushed out because he could not do the job he was hired to do.

Really? Here’s what Eich said last month: “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.” There is not a scintilla of evidence that he has ever discriminated against a single gay person at Mozilla; he was dedicated to continuing Mozilla’s inclusive policies; he was prepared to prove that the accusations against him were unfair, and that his political views would not affect his performance as CEO. But this was not enough. He had to be publicly punished for supporting a Proposition that is no longer in effect. This is absolutely McCarthyism from an increasingly McCarthyite left. Another reader makes a distinction:

Gay activists didn’t run him out.  I really think you are wrong on that.  Sure, some of the usual suspects piped up.  But that wasn’t what did it as far as Mozilla goes.  It was young and down-for-the-cause straight people.  There’s been a very radical, very recent shift in critical mass and majority opinion (especially among tech people, young people) that opposing gay marriage is immoral.  This supportive/progressive/tolerant/well-intentioned straight majority does not hesitate (although it should) to equate gay rights issues with race based civil rights issues.  The gay marriage issue has tapped into a moral consciousness.

After all these years of ducking whenever someone starts talking about morals, the gays are now on the winning side of that conversation.   And I think this moral shift is so new that we don’t see it yet.  And so I don’t share your disgust that Eich quit.  He lost the respect of the co-workers and colleagues he was supposed to lead due to something than runs deeper than a mere political point of view.  This was a moral position.  And a growing number of reasonable average people just can’t abide homophobia anymore.  It wasn’t an angry rump of gay activists that did him in.

Yes, it was broader than that. It was a coalition of those, gay and straight, who do not believe that people with different views than theirs’ should be tolerated in a leadership position. It’s a reminder of just how closed-minded and vicious so much of the identity-politics left can be. One more reader:

Morality has always been about keeping society on the same page. If you violate the the norms, then you are shamed and ridiculed. The ultimate “victory” of the gay rights movement will be that those discriminating against homosexuals will be ridiculed and isolated as bigots. Ultimately we can only hope that the best values win out, and that we will always find outcasts in society that share our values, should our values violate the norm.

There you have the illiberal mindset. Morality trumps freedom. Our opponents must be humiliated, ridiculed and “isolated as perverts”. I mean “bigots”, excuse me.

Orwell wept.


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