Moral Panic

Chill Out About Firefox, Everybody

Critics of Mozilla’s new anti-gay CEO overreacted, and now ‘bullied’ conservatives are in hysterics. Both sides need to slow down; we’re not going to settle the gay issue overnight.

The Daily Beast

All hell seems to have broken loose over the forced resignation of Brendan Eich as new CEO of Mozilla, maker of the Firefox Internet browser, reportedly based on the “discovery” of a contribution he made to the Prop 8 campaign in 2008. One side is making the argument that now that “the liberals” are in charge, they are bullying anyone who disagrees with them, showing their intolerance for difference of opinion. The other side is claiming that this is only the first volley in the pogrom that will take place when conservative voices and people will be rounded up like criminals, lose their jobs, and (presumably) worse at the hands of the Politically Correct Police.

Perhaps it’s time for everyone to take a deep breath and try to sort out what is and what isn’t happening here.

As a proud, openly gay man, I am disappointed that anyone contributed to an effort to strip away the rights of any other citizen, especially the important, fundamental human right to marry the one you love. Eich and I would certainly disagree on that point (assuming he, along with so many other Americans, hasn’t changed his mind in the intervening six years). If indeed he valued me as a second-class citizen, or continued to advocate against my civil rights, I suspect we wouldn’t chat for long at a cocktail party. I would not be his friend.

But I will be his ally in this controversy. Eich has every right to believe that homosexuality is immoral and that marriage is the purview of one man and one woman only. He has every right to advance that view through his speech and his contributions. What he does not have the right to do is bring that view into the workplace and let it guide decisions he might make about personnel, programming and leadership, assuming that it violates the culture of that workplace (which Mozilla has said it does). There is no evidence that this was ever the case, either during his tenure in another position with Mozilla, or in the brief two weeks he was its new CEO. He asked his board for time to prove that his personal beliefs would not affect/interfere with his role as CEO. I think they should have given it to him.

And while we’re talking about the board, how come they aren’t taking more heat for this debacle? They acted, it seems to me, in a particularly incompetent manner. First, if such a value as marriage equality was so important to them, especially in a CEO who is the “face of the company,” did they inquire about it at their interviews with him? If they trusted him enough to hand over the leadership of the company, couldn’t they trust him with a few weeks to prove himself, knowing that at the first “infraction” he could be tossed out on his ear?

In a civil society, I come into contact with all kinds of people whose opinions and beliefs differ from mine. I often have to work with them, depend on them to accomplish things, and even trust them when the going gets rough. I spent a month doing AIDS work in Uganda among lovely, hospitable people, who had they known I was gay, would have driven me out. If I eliminated all contact with those with whom I disagree, I would get pretty lonely.

On the other hand, those who are claiming that Mozilla and its CEO are being “bullied” by the newly triumphant Gay Machine could likewise benefit from taking a deep breath and a measure of calm. First of all, a “bully” is someone who actually has power over you. Those who objected to Eich’s views on marriage have no power over Eich or his board. Had the board decided to give Eich a few weeks to prove himself, those who disagreed would have had no recourse. Some critics were only asking for an apology for Eich’s contributions, not his resignation.

What did happen was not bullying, but pressure—the pressure of public opinion and the economic pressure of the marketplace in which our conservative brothers and sisters put so much confidence. If enough people got off of Firefox to make a difference in the bottom line, it might have caused a change, as economic boycotts sometimes do, but that is not bullying. People exercise judgment all the time about what products to buy, what media to consume and what businesses they will patronize. Businesses are driven every day by what consumers want. That’s not bullying, that’s the marketplace. You are not victims here.

We are not yet in a place where there is nearly-universal agreement about homosexuality. I do believe we will get to a time, sooner than most people think, when we will wonder what all the fuss was about. But in the meantime, we have to live in the, well, meantime; if Eich had expressed racist or anti-Semitic sentiments, there would be little uproar, because there is near unanimity about the immorality of those positions. But we are still living in a time when good, faithful, thoughtful people disagree about the issue of gay marriage. It has not yet become an agreed-upon social norm, and so we will have these disagreements. Calm down, everybody, we’re going to live through this.

Finally, let me just mention one other reason this might be alarming. The Supreme Court just heard oral arguments about whether a CEO of a family-owned corporation can, in effect, impose his own religiously-based value system on his employees, affecting their access to healthcare. If the Supreme Court should rule for Hobby Lobby in that case, then it will be incumbent on all boards to find out what lurks in the minds of potential CEO’s, since they will have been given a frightening, and heretofore unprecedented, measure of authority. Then we really will have something to be exercised about.

The Right Reverend V. Gene Robinson is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress and the IX Episcopal Bishop of New Hampshire. Follow him on Twitter @BishopGRobinson.