There is no doubt that being anti-gay in your beliefs and your actions now puts you on the short end of public opinion. It also puts you behind the American business community. Financial services companies wrote amicus briefs in the DOMA and Prop 8 cases. Their leaders raise millions for marriage equality. Discriminating against folks is bad for business. So, in that sense, some could see the fall of Brendan Eich as a reminder that the business community has reached a consensus on gay rights.
But Mozilla is a unique business. It is a non-profit; it is the creator of Firefox, an open source web platform. It employs a phalanx of programmers, engineers, and techies who also believe in an open Internet. Mozilla is a community, and the board of directors of a community is charged with maintaining the values of that community, including, among many other ways, appointing an executive that shares and expresses those values. Mr. Eich, the board realized, neither shared nor could adequately represent the community he was hired to lead. No amount of programming skills and Internet vision could compensate for his central and basic inability to be a chief executive.
That is why opposition to his appointment came from Mozilla employees.
The media circus surrounding his departure is, therefore, utterly puzzling. But it drops from puzzling to disappointing when I see the entire affair being twisted into a pretext to condemn and criticize gay people, who really were pretty absent in this whole affair.
Mr. Sullivan, a man with many smart ideas and an important voice, calls it "repugnantly illiberal" to demand that a chief executive toe the progressive line on gay marriage and gay rights. He, instead, thinks we should be in the business of tolerance, that quintessentially liberal value of live-and-let-live, and maturity, not "shaming" a man simply because of his beliefs.
Let's accept, just for the moment, that these intolerant gays exist — there is, after all, intolerance everywhere.
First, this story is not about beliefs. Lots of people believe lots of different things and norms of freedom of conscience guarantee our right to believe whatever we want. This is a story about actions that were specifically intended to discriminate, harm, and keep down a disadvantaged minority. Ensuring that actions have consequences is not just a democratic right, it also happens to be a law of physics.
But it is Mr. Sullivan's presumption of liberality as the best path for gay rights that is his Waterloo. Equality is not simply about tolerance. I do not have to tolerate an avowed Nazi, who donates money to a movement to deport blacks to Africa, as the president of the company I work for. I can protest, I can leave, and I can tell the board that he needs to go. The board, in fact, should know that. As a society, we have determined that taking actions that deny the inherent dignity of Jews, African Americans, and women is simply inconsistent with our values and certainly inconsistent with good business. Including gays in that list is long overdue progress.
Ari Ezra Waldman is a professor of law and the Director of the Institute for Information Law and Policy at New York Law School and is concurrently getting his PhD at Columbia University in New York City. He is a 2002 graduate of Harvard College and a 2005 graduate of Harvard Law School. Ari writes weekly posts on law and various LGBT issues.
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