As many on this blog know, I have long been a supporter of same-sex marriage and gay rights. However, I have qualms about a story this morning that Mozilla Chief Executive Brendan Eich has been forced to step down after a campaign by an online dating service. The campaign revealed that Eich had made a donated $1,000 in 2008 in support of California’s Proposition 8, which banned gay marriage in the state before it was struck down in the federal courts. The controversy raises again the tension between free speech and corporate identity.
On Monday, OkCupid sent a message to visitors suggesting that they use browsers such as Microsoft Corp’s Internet Explorer or Google Inc’s Chrome: “Mozilla’s new CEO, Brendan Eich, is an opponent of equal rights for gay couples. We would therefore prefer that our users not use Mozilla software to access OkCupid.”
We previously discussed this issue in relation to the Chick-Fil-A controversy. In this case, Eich was targeted for a small donation to the campaign in 2008. Many people oppose same-sex marriage out of deeply held religious or political views. I do not agree with them but this remains a deep divide in our country.
Eich was exercising his free speech rights in a matter of great public debate. I happen to view many current laws as discriminatory. However, the Supreme Court has yet to rule that states cannot prohibit same-sex marriage and there is no indication that Eich would refuse to comply with such a ruling if it were handed down. Indeed, there is no allegation that Eich has been in any way discriminatory toward employees or associates based on sexual orientation.
However, Mozilla Executive Chairwoman Mitchell Baker indicated that, if anything, it took too long to can Eich: “We didn’t act like you’d expect Mozilla to act. We didn’t move fast enough to engage with people once the controversy started. We’re sorry.”
That is what concerns me. Should companies now move quickly to can officials for religious or controversial personal views? There was a time when people would be fired for supporting gay rights. What about giving money to presidential candidates like Rick Santorum who oppose gay rights generally? Notably, President Obama’s Administration spent the first few years in office defending the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell in court. Obama himself refused to endorse same-sex marriage for years in office 00 during the year period of this donation. To this day, the Obama Administration refuses to treat discrimination against homosexuals as the same a race for the purposes of constitutional interpretation. So why is Eich not allowed to hold such personal views in making donations?
I do not question the right of all citizens to launch such a boycott and to use their market power to influence corporate policy. Clearly, many people stopped going to Chick-Fil-A in such a protest. However, I have concerns over the basis for such a campaign when there is no evidence of political or personal views having any connection to the company. Indeed, the company appears a leader in non-discriminatory practices. Where do we draw the line in such cases? What about corporate executives below the CEO or contributions to political parties or candidates viewed initial to same-sex marriage?