Mozilla Corp. co-founder Brendan Eich has resigned as CEO after a week of public pressure stemming from a campaign contribution he made six years ago. Eich supported the wrong cause; he supported California’s Proposition 8, the ballot initiative that defined marriage as the union of a man and a woman.
For some who favor the redefinition of marriage, tolerance appears to have been a useful rhetorical device along the way to eliminating dissent.
Eich, on the other hand, seems to have been quite tolerant. As Mozilla Executive Chairwoman Mitchell Baker, commenting on the development, said of Eich’s 15 years at Mozilla:
I never saw any kind of behavior or attitude from him that was not in line with Mozilla’s values of inclusiveness.”
The outrageous treatment of Eich is the result of one private, personal campaign contribution to support marriage as a male-female union, a view affirmed at the time by President Barack Obama, then-Sen. Hillary Clinton, and countless other prominent officials. After all, Prop 8 passed with the support of 7 million California voters.
So was President Obama a bigot back when he supported marriage as the union of a man and woman? And is characterizing political disagreement on this issue—no matter how thoughtfully expressed—as hate speech really the way to find common ground and peaceful co-existence?
Sure, the employees of Mozilla—which makes Firefox, the popular Internet browser— have the right to protest a CEO they dislike, for whatever reason. But are they treating their fellow citizens with whom they disagree civilly? Must every political disagreement be a capital case regarding the right to stand in civil society?
When Obama “evolved” on the issue just over a year ago, he insisted that the debate about marriage was legitimate. He said there are people of goodwill on both sides.
Supporters of marriage as we’ve always understood it (a male-female union) “are not coming at it from a mean-spirited perspective,” Obama explained. “They’re coming at it because they care about families.”
And “a bunch of ’em are friends of mine,” the president added. “… you know, people who I deeply respect.”
Yet disrespect and intolerance seem increasingly to be the norm. For the forces that have worked for 20 years to redefine marriage to include same-sex unions, a principal strategy has been cultural intimidation—bullying others by threatening the stigma of being “haters” and “bigots.”
Unwilling to acknowledge this as a significant question on which reasonable people of goodwill can disagree, some advocates of redefining marriage increasingly characterize those with whom they disagree as “enemies of the human race.” They’ve sent a clear message: If you stand up for marriage, we will demonize and marginalize you.
In a series of instances we have seen the gatekeepers of civil society attack those who hold the view that marriage is between a man and a woman —Chick-fil-A, Barilla Pasta, Craig James (who was fired from ESPN), and “Duck Dynasty” patriarch Phil Robertson.
This kind of grotesque incivility is toxic for any democratic community. We can—we must—do better.
This debate is over the fundamental institution concerned with child welfare, and it deserves to be a robust one. Marriage is how societies from time immemorial have united a man and woman as husband and wife, to be mother and father to any children born of their union.
Those in favor of redefining marriage should refuse to participate in campaigns of intimidation. Reject the strategy of demonizing opponents. Call out friends when they bully those who stand up for the historic understanding of marriage.
We can all agree with President Obama that Americans on both sides are worthy of respect.
Policy should prohibit the government from discriminating against any individual or group, whether nonprofit or for-profit, based on their beliefs that marriage is the union of a man and woman or that sexual relations are reserved for marriage. Policy should prohibit the government from discriminating in tax policy, employment, licensing, accreditation, or contracting against such groups and individuals.
Christian adoption agencies already have been forced out of serving children because they believe orphans deserve a mom and a dad. Forcing out these agencies doesn’t help those orphans, and it doesn’t help our society. We need as many adoption agencies as possible.
Other cases include a photographer, a baker, a florist, a bed-and-breakfast, a T-shirt company, a student counselor, the Salvation Army, and more. In each of these instances, there were plenty of other businesses available that were willing to provide similar services.
The debate over the meaning and purpose of marriage will continue. We should conduct it in a civil manner. Bullies may win for a while, but theirs is a scorched-earth policy. They poison democratic discourse and fray the bonds on which democracy itself ultimately depends.
Even those who disagree with each other about morally charged issues of public policy need to be able to live together.