Mozilla's Gay-Marriage Purge

Mozilla's ouster of its CEO over his views on same-sex marriage is nothing like the civil-rights movement.
Silicon Valley has no use for Brendan Eich. Photographer: David Maung/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Farhad Manjoo, of the New York Times, says that Brendan Eich had to go as chief executive officer of Mozilla Corp.

Eich, who donated money in 2008 to a political group that opposed same-sex marriage, resigned from the maker of Firefox yesterday under pressure because of his views. Mozilla is a community with a public-spirited mission, Manjoo argues, and Eich's "views on gay marriage might have posed some danger to that community."

The danger arose because many of the company's employees, and the technology workers it seeks to influence, consider those views unacceptable.

That's a frustrating argument, because the question is whether people, even if they favor same-sex marriage themselves, ought to tolerate those who oppose it or should instead judge them lacking in public-spiritedness and cast them out of the community.

Eich's defenders, particularly on the right, have enjoyed pointing out that his views on same-sex marriage are in line with those President Barack Obama espoused as recently as the spring of 2012. Actually, though, even Obama's more recent views are out of sync with the campaign to oust Eich. When he endorsed same-sex marriage, the president was careful to say that opponents shouldn't be treated as uniformly "mean-spirited" and even that he deeply respects some of them.

Many supporters of same-sex marriage think society should treat opposition as illegitimate, outside the realm of polite society and acceptable debate. They think of the issue as morally equivalent to the fight for civil rights for blacks. We wouldn't tolerate a CEO who was on the record opposing interracial marriage, at least unless he recanted. Forcing Eich out might then be thought to advance a laudable change in American norms.

Of course, a lot of Americans -- I'm one of them -- reject the analogy. We think that opposition to same-sex marriage is nothing like opposition to interracial marriage, and that Obama's position before 2012 wasn't just defensible but correct. Even people who favor same-sex marriage and accept the civil-rights analogy, however, should think twice about the precedent being set by the Eich case. The civil-rights movement did not, in fact, conduct itself in this fashion. It did not seek to marginalize those who opposed it, or had reservations about it, when those holdouts made up more than a third of the population. It did not insist on public recantations by all of them.

The anti-racist consensus is today enforced through intense social pressure, but it wasn't achieved that way. And it's hard to see how the civil-rights movement would have succeeded had it adopted the purge as a tactic in, say, 1966.

Maybe today's effort will be more successful. But it sure seems like an odd way to advance a healthy sense of "community."

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