When Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich resigned last week — following a week of protests and boycotts from the company’s developers and users over his donation to the anti-gay Proposition 8 campaign — it signified a milestone for LGBT equality. Actively opposing equality was seen as so politically toxic that it interfered with a company’s ability to proceed with business as usual. This tipping point has been catalyzing, with some in the LGBT community divided about the value of its impact and conservatives doubling down on hypocrisy when it comes to boycotts. At the heart of the conversation is the question of how equality is measured and whether there is a “good enough” standard that negates the need for further advocacy.
The important distinction lost in the conversations since Eich stepped down is that this was a protest about Mozilla more than it was about Eich. The company violated its commitment to openness and inclusion by promoting Eich to be its figurehead, and Eich himself decided that Mozilla’s work could only proceed if he stepped down. As a company that depends on volunteer developers, having a divisive CEO would cripple Mozilla’s ability to recruit the talent its open-source model requires. Eich’s resignation, as many have pointed out, was thus hardly surprising.
Conservatives, however, have jumped at the opportunity to portray the LGBT community as bullies. The National Organization for Marriage (NOM), for example, has launched its own counter-boycott of the Firefox browser. According to Executive Director Brian Brown, gay activists targeted Eich with a “vicious character attack” and “forced him out of the company” as part of a “McCarthyesque witch hunt that makes the term ‘thought police’ seem modest.” The Family Research Council (FRC) described the LGBT movement as “hateful, intolerant, illiberal, persecutorial,” quoting Rod Dreher, contributor to The American Conservative. According to these organizations, boycotts inhibit free speech and LGBT people are intolerant for engaging in them.
Ironically, not a month has passed since conservatives wrestled with their own protests after the evangelical charity World Vision offered to hire people who were married to someone of the same sex. Ministries and other religious organizations threatened to cut their support for the charity, with FRC’s Tony Perkins first among them. World Vision acquiesced, promising to continue its blatantly discriminatory policy, and both FRC and NOM were grateful. The reversal, however, didn’t stop American Family Association President Tim Wildmon from still calling for the leaders of World Vision to resign for supporting the short-lived inclusive change. As Slate’s Jamelle Bouie points out, the very conservative groups claiming Eich is the victim of free-speech discrimination oppose the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would protect LGBT people from the kind of employment discrimination World Vision just recommitted to imposing. The only consistency in these conservative groups’ positions is their opposition to LGBT equality.
Leading the divisive charge for the LGBT community was Andrew Sullivan, who claimed last Thursday that Eich was “scalped by some gay activists.” He doubled down on Sunday, suggesting that the pressure against Eich was lacking in moderation:
A civil rights movement without toleration is not a civil rights movement; it is a cultural campaign to expunge and destroy its opponents. A moral movement without mercy is not moral; it is, when push comes to shove, cruel.
Sullivan’s position echoes that of another gay writer, Brandon Ambrosino, who has argued that opposing marriage equality does not make someone anti-gay. For Sullivan, defending Eich means arguing not only that opposing marriage equality is okay, but that financially supporting campaigns against marriage equality is justifiable as well.
Sullivan and Ambrosino may not recognize it, but this is actually one of the primary talking points that conservatives regularly now use to justify the anti-LGBT discrimination they promote. At the Heritage Foundation, for example, Ryan T. Anderson offers a new “backgrounder” this week about how opposing marriage for same-sex couples is in no way comparable to opposing marriage for interracial couples. Laws against miscegenation, he argues, were built on “prejudiced ideas about race,” whereas believing that marriage is between a man and a woman is “reasonable,” and that when businesses refuse service to marrying same-sex couples, they “deny no one equality before the law.” This assertion that there’s a distinction between these forms of discrimination belies the fact that proponents of those anti-miscegenation laws used the exact same arguments about protecting children as opponents of marriage equality now use.
Eich’s resignation represents the increasingly heightened standard for “equality.” For Mozilla’s community, 99 percent equality — the company’s inclusive policies and Eich’s commitment to upholding them — was not enough. He did not apologize for his Prop 8 donation and he refused to say whether he’d give to an anti-gay campaign again in the future. Conservatives want it to be enough, because as their resistance to equality continues to fail, the notion that the freedoms of speech and religion justify their anti-LGBT positions is one of the few arguments they have left. Eich’s failure to win over the support of Mozilla’s contributors without reversing his position simply demonstrates that for some, achieving full equality doesn’t leave room for these exceptions.