The facts are that in 2008 Eich contributed $1000 to the campaign for Proposition 8, which banned same sex marriage (SSM) in California. This contribution became public knowledge in 2012. At the time, Eich was the CTO (Chief Technical Officer) for Mozilla, an organization which he co-founded. A couple of week ago, Eich was promoted to CEO, and that’s when the proverbial shit hit the fan. Many people both inside and outside Mozilla were upset about Eich’s beliefs against same sex marriage, and believed that they made him unfit to be the CEO of a community based organization like Mozilla. One website urged a boycott. Ten days later, Eich resigned.
It is worth noting that Proposition 8 passed in California (although it was later overturned by the state supreme court). That means that in at least some sense Eich’s opinions were not out of the mainstream at the time. Public opinion about SSM has changed dramatically in the last few years.
And Eich himself promised to continue Mozilla’s policy of inclusiveness, including for gay rights, and to separate his personal beliefs from his professional life. According to people who worked with him, he has kept that promise and never let his personal beliefs influence his work or how he treated others.
In a legal sense, this played out as it should have. Of course Eich has a right to his personal opinions. And of course Mozilla has a right to get rid of their CEO for any reason, including if public outcry will hurt the organization.
I have been a CEO in my life, so I understand that a CEO represents a company in a way that the CTO doesn’t. Even so, should Eich be punished for an action he took back when it was mainstream, but which no longer is?
I can see both sides of this issue, so why does this bother me so much? I think Andrew Sullivan (who is a gay conservative columnist) hit the nail on the head:
The whole episode disgusts me – as it should disgust anyone interested in a tolerant and diverse society. If this is the gay rights movement today – hounding our opponents with a fanaticism more like the religious right than anyone else – then count me out.
I have watched with amazement and awe as the fight for gay rights has been won in a stunningly short amount of time. It really was just back in 2008 when California passed Prop 8. I live in Oregon, and it too passed a constitutional amendment banning SSM. Opposition to gays was one of the strongest red meat causes of the religious right. And now, just a few years later, those laws are being overturned and few people question gay rights.
In my opinion, this fight was won because it was not a fight. Gays did not win because they banded together and fought straight people. They won by being normal and non-threatening. They won because TV shows and movies started showing gays as real people who were not so different from everyone else, and who shared the same dreams and aspirations. They also won because we all started recognizing that the many contributions by gays made the world a better place. Gay people were not scary or evil. They were normal. Rather than a threat to the family, they were an asset.
In the past I have written posts where I did not support SSM. Not because I didn’t believe that gays should marry, but because I thought that marriage should not be the domain of government. Instead, I wanted everyone (gay or straight) to have a right to a civil union, and leave marriage to the church. Any church that wanted to could perform marriages for gays, but all the legal rights would be stripped from marriage and transferred to civil unions. We are supposed to keep church and state separate, right? As they like to say, my opinion has evolved. Should those old posts be used against me now?
Maybe Eich’s opinion hasn’t evolved the same way as mine, but I’m still afraid that hounding him out of his job because he is was (and may still be) a heretic is a terrible strategy for the gay rights movement. As one commenter on Sullivan’s site put it:
I don’t spend my money at Chik-fil-A because I don’t like the idea of it being funneled into an anti-equality organizations. I don’t buy Barilla because their CEO explained that they don’t make their products for me, which I assume means they don’t need my money. I don’t watch Duck Dynasty because – well, I never did. But this is a horse of different color. I don’t want to be party to purges and I sure as hell don’t want to give the likes Sarah Palin the satisfaction of an “I told you so” moment. Snap out of it people! We’re winning! We don’t need to do this!