Gay marriage proponents, intolerant toward those who disagree, are squandering their progress

Reuters photo by Albert Gea.

Reuters photo by Albert Gea.

With last week’s forced resignation of JavaScript inventor and Mozilla co-founder and CEO Brendan Eich, there is little doubt that bullies are exerting control over freedom of speech.

What heinous transgression did Eich possibly commit to get tossed from the company he was recently tapped to run?

He contributed $1,000 to California’s Proposition 8, which defined marriage as between a man and a woman. In 2008. As a private citizen.

The gall!

Upon Eich’s appointment, a few Mozilla employees who objected to his opposition to gay marriage took to the Internet to orchestrate a firestorm of hate against him.

OKCupid didn’t agree with his views either and decided to take action by urging its members not to use Mozilla’s Firefox browser to visit the dating site.

And Mozilla’s board excoriated him as they weighed in as well. Executive chairwoman Mitchell Baker groveled in an official Mozilla blog post, “Mozilla prides itself on being held to a different standard and, this past week, we didn’t live up to it. We’re sorry. We must do better.”

Amazingly — and hypocritically — Baker went on: “Our organizational culture reflects diversity and inclusiveness. … We have employees with a wide diversity of views. Our culture of openness extends to encouraging staff and community to share their beliefs and opinions in public. … While painful, the events of the last week show exactly why we need the web. So all of us can engage freely in the tough conversations we need to make the world better.”

Except for when the CEO’s opinion differs from hers, apparently.

Eich doesn’t hold some outlier position with his views on marriage. Until he expediently “evolved” on the issue, President Barack Obama supported traditional marriage. And so did more than 7 million California voters who ushered Prop 8 into law. (The will of the people was later overruled.)

The disagreement over gay marriage has nothing to do with bigotry or hatred, things that are truly abhorrent. This has to do with the definition of marriage, which many people (including more than 7 million California voters), whether because of religious or secular views, believe should be between one man and one woman.

Regardless of how you come down on gay marriage, this episode at Mozilla should give you pause.

Does that mean that a mere six years after 7 million people voted for traditional marriage, their beliefs are so offensive that they cannot safely express them in a public setting?

Does that mean that 7 million people — including 7 out of 10 black voters and more than half of Latino voters — should be fired from their jobs for voting for their belief in traditional marriage?

Does this mean that if you disagree with those supporting gay marriage, or indeed any other topic, you should be frightened to speak out for fear of reprisals, public, private, financial or otherwise?

Freedom of speech is one of our most treasured rights, a hallmark of American democracy. We don’t have to agree on all things — in fact, dissent is good when it is used for respectful, thoughtful, honest discourse. Personal attacks only serve to shine light on the shallowness of the attacker, highlighting a vacuous, unintelligent and empty approach to intellectual discussion.

“The mob got their man,” Matt Galligan, CEO of news startup Circa, wrote on Twitter. “While I disagree with his beliefs @BrendanEich gave us JavaScript and helped build Mozilla & Netscape. Just $1,000 to Prop 8 now his legacy.”

And Andrew Sullivan, the popular writer of the Daily Dish blog who is openly gay and a supporter of gay marriage, wrote, “The whole episode disgusts me — as it should disgust anyone interested in a tolerant and diverse society. 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.”

Instead of pillorying those who disagree, tying them to a post in the town square and giving them a good public whipping, wouldn’t it be more to the point to have an honest conversation and win people over with rational, reasoned argument?

Harassment, intimidation and bullying have no place in (or out of) the office. Strategic bullying is particularly insidious and dangerous. It mutes dissension, effectively stifling freedom of speech and boiling down government to a one-party system.

OKCupid says it is “satisfied” with Eich’s resignation. Isn’t that magnanimous of them?

Meanwhile, these bigots — and make no mistake, they are bigots — are squandering the very real gains gay marriage proponents have made through discussion, argument and engagement.

Susan Dench

About Susan Dench

Susan Dench is the founder and president of the fast-growing non-profit, non-partisan Informed Women's Network. Recognizing that many women are tired of "politics as usual," Susan decided to take action and develop strategies that are innovating the way women and politics intersect, nurturing and encouraging women in fun, energetic gatherings where views can be expressed in a supportive environment and then translated into practical solutions that produce results.