What Andrew Sullivan Missed in the Mozilla Case


mozilla_00The recent brouhaha over the appointment and rapid resignation of Brendan Eich as CEO of Mozilla prompted an unusual amount of soul-searching in the gay community. The spotlight has been on the outcry in the GLBT community that led to the resignation, and everyone from Andrew Sullivan to New York Times columnist Frank Bruni has lambasted the gay activists who demanded Eich’s head when they learned of his $1,000 gift to a pro-Proposition 8 group back in 2008.

         What I find amazing about this affair is not the outcry – calling for boycotts and resignations is what bloggers do – but the fact that Mozilla acceded to their demand. This is clearly what made it into a story—not the fact that some activists complained, but the fact that they were successful. Impotent rage is one thing, and it’s something we’re used to, but actually forcing someone out of a job because they’re anti-gay is a new kind of power for us. It is what led a breathless Andrew Sullivan to write the following:

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. If we are about intimidating the free speech of others, we are no better than the anti-gay bullies who came before us.

That we are now the bullies, that we are in a position to intimidate others who disrespect our rights, implies a power that we’ve never had before. And Sullivan is right: with this power comes responsibility. Now that we know that we can hound someone out of office because of their views on gay marriage, we should be careful not to abuse it.

         Whether the gay activists were “intimidating the free speech of others” in Sullivan’s odd phraseology is another matter. One could argue that the activists were only exercising their free speech, and they happen to have won this round. Nor is anyone saying that Mr. Eich shouldn’t be allowed to support Prop 8 if he wants to. But apparently this support was taken by Mozilla’s Board of Directors to be an indicator of broader anti-gay attitudes, a discriminatory profile that a nonprofit organization based in California might want to avoid.

         The fact that Eich was forced out of an unrelated job for his position on gay marriage might seem strange, but consider the case that, instead of giving money to a anti-gay marriage group, he’d donated to a group that opposed interracial marriage. I’m sure Mr. Eich would have been fired even more quickly, and without controversy. But, of course, there’s no possibility that he would have donated to such a group, because interracial marriage is a non-issue at this point.

         And this is kind of how it goes when a minority rights movement is successful. When an issue such as marriage equality is still being hotly contested and there are still two legitimate “sides,” each with some hope of success, efforts to silence the opposing side with bullying tactics will appear as an assault on free speech. But there comes a tipping point when opposition to a minority’s rights is seen as unacceptably bigoted and beyond the pale. And most of us are okay with that.

         Clearly, we’re not at this stage with respect to same-sex marriage, but apparently we’ve reached the point where, at least in some quarters, open opposition to it is out of bounds. The fact that support for marriage equality has become a barometer of political correctness is itself a remarkable development, given that the whole notion of gay marriage was unthinkable just a generation or two ago, while Prop 8 was approved by voters less than six years ago. At the same time, it would be foolhardy to deny that there is still a lively opposition to marriage equality that has no qualms about expressing itself in many public settings. And we’re okay with that too—for now.

Richard Schneider Jr. is the editor of The Gay & Lesbian Review.