Politics vs. Civil Rights (Why Brendan Eich Needed To Go)

One of the biggest Silicon Valley controversies in recent memory is the short, turbulent tenure as Mozilla CEO of co-founder and JavaScript inventor Brendan Eich.

The quick summary, for anyone who hasn’t followed the story, is that Eich donated $1,000 to support California’s Proposition 8 in 2008.  Prop 8 has a single meaningful clause:

“Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.”

In other words, it was a ballot measure with a single purpose: To block gay people from getting married in the state of California.

While the news of Eich’s donation had become public in 2012, his appointment as CEO of both the Mozilla Corporation and Foundation (the Foundation is a non-profit that owns the for-profit Corporation) brought the controversy to the fore.

Eich argued that personal beliefs didn’t impact his ability to lead the Mozilla Foundation, which explicitly supports “equality for all.”  But he steadfastly refused to apologize for his actions or beliefs.

While the blog post that announced Eich’s resignation said that Eich wasn’t forced out and made his own decision, it’s clear that the outrage of the community played a key role.

The broader question is what the controversy means.

One storyline is that Eich’s ouster reflects the continuing and rapid change in attitudes towards LGBT individuals; remember, Prop 8 *passed* in 2008, and none other than future president Barack Obama declined to endorse marriage equality when asked about the topic.  Today, a majority of Americans, including President Obama, support marriage equality, and full marriage equality in the United States is only a matter of time.

The opposing storyline is that Eich’s ouster reflects political correctness run amok, and that forcing the co-founder of a company to resign because of his personal beliefs, rather than illegal action or malfeasance, sets a chilling precedent that few would want to see extended.

Whether you buy into the “political correctness” storyline depends on whether you consider Eich’s support for Prop 8 a matter of politics or civil rights.

Most of us rightly feel uneasy about seeing anyone lose their job because of their politics.  We believe in freedom of speech, and firing someone for their political beliefs seems morally wrong.  I certainly wouldn’t want someone firing me over my political beliefs (no matter how well I manage to cloak them in my public utterances!).

But Eich’s continued opposition to marriage equality isn’t a matter of politics; it’s a matter of civil rights.

Prop 8 was designed to deny civil rights to a specific group of people.  And not just any civil right, but the right to marry whom we choose, which has to be one of the most fundamental and personal of rights.

Until 1967, interracial marriage was illegal in the American South, as far North as West Virginia, and as far West as Texas.  That means that less than 50 years ago, my wife and I would not have been permitted to marry in roughly 1/3 of our country.  As recently as 1958, a Gallup poll found that 96% of white Americans disapproved of interracial marriage.  I’ve mentioned these facts to my kids, who find them, frankly, unbelievable (a fact that I’m quite happy about).

Imagine if Eich had donated to a group that was dedicated to banning interracial marriage, or to bringing back segregated schools?  Would there be any controversy over his resignation?  Would anyone argue that calling for the ouster of a segregationist would be “political correctness run amok?”

Marriage equality is a matter of civil rights, and impacts all of us.  Marriage is a fundamental human right, and should not be denied to any couple, regardless of their parentage, wealth, or sexual orientation.

Brendan Eich was given the opportunity to apologize for his actions, but refused to do so.  I respect his decision to stay true to his beliefs, even when it would be convenient to lie.  But his beliefs are fundamentally wrong, and his resignation was the right outcome for Mozilla.  A company that espouses equality for all cannot be led by a man who continues to believe the opposite.

9 thoughts on “Politics vs. Civil Rights (Why Brendan Eich Needed To Go)

  1. Pretty sad day that your own views will get you dismissed. What have the liberals become but a bunch of cowards using what they think is power but really is what really what they dread looking in their own mirror

  2. You guys are all pretty stupid
    Believe in Free will Or Die

  3. Joe,

    The point is that Brendan Eich was trying to run an organization that has an explicit commitment to equality for all.

    If the head of the NRA was donating money to gun control campaigns, and admitted that he didn't believe in the 2nd Amendment, would the members accept his assurances that he could fairly carry out the mission of the organization regardless of his personal beliefs? Or would they call for his resignation?

  4. Anonymous

    Freedom of speech does not mean freedom from repercussions. The mark of a man is being able to stand by his principles,whatever the outcome. Principles only mean something if you stand by them when they are INCONVENIENT.
    I don not agree at all with the man, but respect him.

  5. So being a CEO of an Internet company and heading the NRA you must be drinking the Kool aid were is the intent you are judging before the crime just another liberal willing to destroy freedom at any cost

  6. Not sure I'm buying the analogy. The better analogy is can a CEO who is a practicing Hindu lead a company that contains practicing Muslims or Catholics? Or should he be forced to recant the bits of his Hinduism that contradict other religions?

    And at least some elements of "gayness" are a sin according to the vast majority of the planet's religions. If you're going to make support for gay issues a litmus test for CEO worthiness, you are pretty much mandating that CEOs must be atheists (or Unitarians, or some other "modern" religion).

  7. Personally, I see this as a business decision, not a free-speech or civil rights issue. At the end of the day, Brendan Eich has the right to say what he wants and donate to where he wants. But, his own employees were demanding his resignation and his customers were organizing boycotts. It is bad business to have your CEO being a huge distraction, negatively affecting morale and damaging your brand. Whether you think his employees are a bunch of "cowards", or his customers are freedom-killing liberals is really beside the point. Just as he needed to resign due to the business ramifications of his words and actions, you are free to organize and call for his reinstatement for these same reasons… though I think you would look fairly foolish if you did so.

  8. Foo,

    I respect religious freedom, but that doesn't mean I believe in cultural relativism.

    I believe that some things are right, and some things are wrong, and I try to base these beliefs on broad principles.

    Denying basic human rights is wrong.

    Most believers are willing to pick and choose among the beliefs put forth in official doctrine; for example, the proportion of American Catholics who use birth control is certainly a majority.

  9. To Foobarista,

    Its one think to believe that gays dont deserve the same rights, its another think to join a movement that tries to take away gays and lesbians civil rights. as a man you are free to believe that women dont deserve the same rights as men, its another thing to support a law that removes women's rights.

    Religious people need to understand that you no longer can deny others their rights just because your book said so. you cant say "I am Christian and my God its telling me that you cant get married, what if I am a Hindu? or atheist?

    Thats the issue here, this guy its a religious conservative, he is free to think whatever he wants, women are inferior, blacks sucks, gays are gross, but you cant deny those groups civil rights just because your religion believes they are sinners. How its so hard for people to get this, CEOs still can think gays will burn in hell, and are gross, and dont deserve marriage equality, but that doesnt mean you can take away their rights.

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