It’s getting more than a little deep in here.
No one should be surprised that Newt Gingrich called the ouster of Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich a product of “new fascism” (same great taste?), joining other right-wing luminaries like Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck in Hitlerian hyperbole. Recovering conservaholic Andrew Sullivan likened Eich’s removal to the Inquisition, and, in a topical touch, to a “scalping.” Then, there was lefty libertarian crank Bill Maher to put it all in perspective on his Real Time “Overtime” segment Friday night. “I think there is a gay mafia,” Maher said, adding “I think if you cross them, you do get whacked.”
Before I get to Maher and company’s metaphorical excesses, it’s important to address his agreement with the conservative lie that President Obama was, at one time, “against gay marriage.” While Barack Obama has held a series of tortured political positions on marriage equality, and once held the personal view that “marriage is between one man and one woman,” he has consistently opposed any attempt to ban gay marriage, including Proposition 8.
As for the gay, Führer-headed mafia Inquisition, let’s all take a deep breath here. Brendan Eich was not double-tapped in a rowboat as he recited the Ave Maria, or rounded up and exterminated, or even, say, tied to a tree and beaten to death. Brendan Eich was asked to step down as CEO of Mozilla. People have been murdered in the struggle over gay rights; Brendan Eich isn’t one of them. Brendan Eich contributed money to a cause that sought to deny those rights, and to dissolve rights that had already been achieved.
On a more temperate note, our own Chez Pazienza says Eich was bullied out of his job. That’s a less offensive, yet still disturbing, comparison. Bullies don’t go after people who are empowered. Brendan Eich went after LGBT people with his wallet, and the people he went after, and their allies, went back at him with theirs. We can talk about how productive or sober this process was, but it was clearly not bullying. Bullying, particularly where LGBT issues are concerned, kills.
The fundamental problem here, though, isn’t settling on the correct metaphor for Eich’s woes, but in understanding just what it was that Eich did. Chez sums it up by saying that Brendan Eich “gave a grand to support what he believed the definition of marriage should be,” and defenders of Eich will similarly fret that he was punished for “disagreeing” with people, or for being a “dissenter,” which is what he called himself in his response to the uproar in 2012.
The problem is that Proposition 8 was not an example of “dissent,” it was an attempt to dictate. The status quo in California did not force Brendan Eich to get gay married, or to change his beliefs about marriage, or have any effect on him at all. He was, and is, free to disagree with same-sex marriages all he wants. Brendan Eich decided to fund an effort to take away other people’s rights, to dissolve other people’s marriages. Brendan Eich is the bully.
There was an excellent, albeit brief, test case for the sort of liberal “closed-mindedness” that’s being posited here. When the entire world first piled on Miss California, Carrie Prejean, in 2008, they were doing what Eich’s critics are accused of: cruelly bullying someone simply for disagreeing. Her original answer to Perez Hilton was “I think it’s great that Americans are able to choose one or the other. We live in a land that you can choose same-sex marriage or opposite marriage. But you know what? In my country and in my family, that’s how I was raised, is that marriage is between a man and a woman, no offense to anybody out there.”
It was an ineloquent, legally shaky opinion, but as fair a deal as you’ll ever hear from a marriage equality opponent: let people choose. Unfortunately, it was only a matter of days before Prejean was swallowed up by the National Organization for Marriage, and decided people should no longer have a choice outside of “opposite marriage.” She went from being bullied to being the bully, but she could at least argue she had nowhere else to go. I don’t recall anyone asking Brendan Eich whom he thought should, and should not, be allowed to marry. His was an entirely voluntary effort.
In general, I’m against firing or removing anyone from any job on the basis of speech. The answer to problematic speech, in my view, is almost always more speech, not less. I think Chez and I would agree that a public airing of/debate over Eich’s views would have been a more productive demand than his ouster, but it should be noted that when given the opportunity to address this controversy, before he thought it might cost him his job, Eich elected for less speech.