Marco Arment wrote an article on this whole Brendan Eich affair in which he makes the argument for Eich’s firing. He’s wrong. Let me explain why.
His right to free speech entitles him to express any opinion he pleases.1 But it does not shield him from the personal and professional repercussions of what he says.
Our right to free speech entitles us to be vocally outraged, to encourage others to boycott Firefox, or to call for his firing. What Mozilla pressures or forces him to do as a result is solely their decision and their problem, and has nothing to do with anyone’s free speech — it’s a business decision.
All of that is certainly true, and like Andrew Sullivan, I think Mozilla has a right to do what they did and that Eich wasn’t stripped of his First Amendment rights, and I’d fight till my last breath for Mozilla to retain that right.
Normally, I’d agree with you—and in a way, I do—about Mozilla’s “business decision”. But the trouble is that Mozilla has always tried to take a stand for openness and freedom. Mozilla claims to try to stand up for free speech. How can we trust them to do so when they can’t even stand up to some people yelling on the internet?
That isn’t the bulk of my issue, though:
Suppose, rather than fund an anti-gay-marriage bill, Eich had instead funded a fringe bill that prohibited black people from getting married. Or suppose he said during a press conference that he believed women shouldn’t have the right to vote.
Would it be reasonable for the public to be outraged and call for his firing then?
Assuming your answer is yes (I don’t think I can really help you if it’s not), why is that different from funding an anti-gay-marriage bill?
The answer to the first question is no, and if you think about it, you’ll see why. (The second is yes.)
If Eich had funded a bill prohibiting black people from marrying with his own money, but did not actively discriminate black people at any point, then yes, I think it would be unreasonable for people to call for his firing. Criticism would be fair. When you put your voice into a public arena, criticism is fair. But going after someone’s livelihood is unconscionable. When did Martin Luther King Jr. call for the firing of all racists? When did Ghandi call for the firing of anyone who believed in British rule? When did Nelson Mandela pass a law requiring “racism tests” for all employers?
If he said during a press conference that he thought women shouldn’t have the right to vote, he should be fired, because when he’s speaking at a press conference, he’s speaking on behalf of the company. He’s not disgracing himself, he’s disgracing Mozilla. That’s a firing offense. If he had donated to Proposition 8 on Mozilla’s behalf, it would be an entirely different story. But he didn’t.
And let me turn this around a little bit. What if, instead of donating to Proposition 8, Eich had donated $1000 to a climate change denial fund? Would it be reasonable to call for his firing then? Indeed, couldn’t that be more reasonable? Regardless of the denials of rights, nobody dies because gay marriage isn’t legal. Climate change is already responsible for thousands of deaths. Mozilla is surely a company that supports increased scientific literacy, one of the major benefits of the internet. Why should they be represented by someone who supports scientific illiteracy?
If you think that’s reasonable, let me try another action: What if he had donated $1000 to an anti-abortion group? I’ll avoid poking the beehive any more and avoid a particular stance here, but abortion has very real effects, one way or the other.
So let’s knock that argument right out. This is not a free speech issue, period, and it’s incorrect, misleading, and naive to attempt to make it one. Such distortions are the fastest way to pervert and derail an argument, as we often see from our politicians, and I expect better from intelligent people like Andrew Sullivan.
This is hilarious, given that Andrew Sullivan is probably more entitled to an opinion on this than anyone else, since he arguably invented gay marriage in his 1989 The New Republic article, “Here Comes The Groom”. He certainly argued for gay marriage before anybody else did.2 The president “evolved” to support gay marriage only 2 years ago. Proposition 8 passed—in California!—only 6 years ago. This is not nearly as clear cut as Marco seems to think it is (yet). There is room for debate outside of simple bigotry on this issue, still. If this issue is truly analogous to voting rights for women, we’re still in the “political views” stage, and shutting your enemies up is a great way to look desperate.
There’s a bigger point here, though. As a society, we seem to have forgotten that people who are wrong have rights. It’s something of a strange concept that discrimination of any sort should be legal, but in principle, people can hire who they want to. Here’s Julian Sanchez, writing on the Arizona religious liberty bill:
Unlike most of my friends, I do not find it self evident that the “liberty interest” invoked by religious bigots is some kind of absurd sham worthy of mention only in derisive scare quotes. And I find it a bit disturbing that many of them seem to assume that if any anti-discrimination laws protecting any class of Americans have ever been justified, the weight of that interest has effectively been reduced to zero, and may be ignored for all future purposes…
As I argued in Newsweek a few years back, the “purist” libertarian position that condemns all anti-discrimination laws, including the 1964 Civil Rights Act, as a priori unjust violations of sacrosanct property rights is profoundly misguided and historically blinkered. We were… dealing with the aftermath of centuries of government-enforced slavery and segregation—which had not only hopelessly tainted property distributions but created deficits in economic and social capital transmitted across generations to the descendants of slaves.
…The interest in restoring civic equality was so compelling that it trumped the interest in associational choice within that sphere. But we didn’t deny the existence of that interest—appalling as the racist’s exercise of it might be—and continue to recognize it in other domains. A racist can still invite only neighbors of certain races to dinner parties, or form exclusive private associations, or as a prospective employee choose to consider only job offers from firms run or staffed primarily by members of their own race. Partly, of course, this is because regulations in these domains would be difficult or impossible to enforce—but partly it’s because the burden on associational freedom involved in requiring nondiscrimination in these realms would be unacceptably high.
Some of the considerations supporting our limited prohibition of racial discrimination apply to discrimination against gay Americans. But some don’t. Sexual orientation, unlike race, is not transmitted across generations, which means a gay person born in 1980 is not starting from a position of disadvantage that can be traced to a legacy of homophobic laws in the same way that a black person born in 1980 is likely to be disadvantaged by centuries of government-enforced racism. We don’t see the same profound and persistent socioeconomic disparities.
This is the point. If Eich had been a blatant homophobe, systematically discriminating against LGBT individuals and keeping them out of the workforce, he would be a terrible choice of CEO—if for no other reason than that there are surely great LGBT programmers—and he should have been forced out. But the evidence is that he wasn’t. He promised to maintain Mozilla’s inclusive benefits. Mitchell Baker, Mozilla’s chairwoman, who announced Eich’s
firing resignation, said that she was surpised that he had donated to Proposition 8 because in his work with her, he had always seemed dedicated to inclusiveness. And that’s the reason that this is ultimately unjustifiable. This is not a question of removing a cruel homophobe, this is a question of a man’s right to hold a political position. His lack of discriminatory history is the reason that this is just a “political view”.
“Beliefs” and “views” deserve no inherent protection, validity, or value to the rest of society simply because they’re political or religious. They’re just opinions, and just as many opinions are worth considering and discussing, many others are offensive, crazy, ignorant, or bigoted.
This is certainly true, with one qualification: society has an obligation to protect every view. It’s not because the view is “religious” or “political” or “secular” or anything else—it’s because it’s a view and people have a right to their opinions. Eich’s views does not deserve any more protection than the view that gay marriage should be legal—but they deserve just as much protection, even if the view is completely wrong.
A hundred years ago, saying that women shouldn’t be allowed to vote was a “political view”. Now, that would be a ridiculous and highly offensive opinion regardless of what any religion or political party said on the topic. Most discriminating “political views” of this sort eventually become widely recognized as unacceptable, barbaric bigotry with no place in civilized society — it’s just a matter of time.
The position that gay marriage shouldn’t be legal may well be “ridiculous and highly offensive”. That doesn’t mean it should be impossible for someone to hold that position and continue to live in a civilized society.
Moreover, I think that it’s obvious that oppressing these views—forcing them into the closet—does not have a positive outcome. Nelson Mandela famously broke down a lot of barriers in South Africa by refusing to overthrow and condemn the racists, and instead trying to cooperate and persuade. When people saw that he was intelligent and reasonable, their resistance melted.
The same is true of any rights movement. Surely we would be doing better at eliminating any remaining racism if racists were more, not less, open about their racism, because we could talk with them and persuade them. Instead, they hide in darkness, coming out only in horrible displays online and quietly teaching their children that it’s OK to hate people of a different skin color. They do this because society has made it impossible for them to express their views, and the result is that those people can never be eliminated, because they must hide themselves.
Wouldn’t it be better if we could persaude them? Wouldn’t it be better if we sat and discussed?
There is nothing to be gained—for anyone—by shutting up those who disagree with you. All that accomplishes is generations of hatred and bigotry.
And if being against the closet isn’t pro-gay, I’m not quite sure what is.