This week, Brendan Eich resigned as CEO of Mozilla after a week-long pressure campaign by pro-gay marriage activists. The activists objected to a $1,000 donation he had made in 2008 to support Proposition 8, a ballot initiative to define marriage in the California constitution as being only a union of one man and one woman. Even some pro-gay marriage supporters recognize that their compatriots have gone too far—that they are in fact being quite illiberal in this instance. Conor Friedersdorf, for example, writes:
Calls for his ouster were premised on the notion that all support for Proposition 8 was hateful, and that a CEO should be judged not just by his or her conduct in the professional realm, but also by political causes he or she supports as a private citizen.
If that attitude spreads, it will damage our society.
Consider an issue like abortion, which divides the country in a particularly intense way, with opponents earnestly regarding it as the murder of an innocent baby and many abortion-rights supporters earnestly believing that a fetus is not a human life, and that outlawing it is a horrific assault on a woman’s bodily autonomy. The political debate over abortion is likely to continue long past all of our deaths. Would American society be better off if stakeholders in various corporations began to investigate leadership’s political activities on abortion and to lobby for the termination of anyone who took what they regard to be the immoral, damaging position?
It isn’t difficult to see the wisdom in inculcating the norm that the political and the professional are separate realms, for following it makes so many people and institutions better off in a diverse, pluralistic society. The contrary approach would certainly have a chilling effect on political speech and civic participation, as does Mozilla’s behavior toward Eich.
Its implications are particularly worrisome because whatever you think of gay marriage, the general practice of punishing people in business for bygone political donations is most likely to entrench powerful interests and weaken the ability of the powerless to challenge the status quo. [The Atlantic, April 4]
The rule seems to be if you bake cakes and you have pro-traditional marriage views, then you have to run your cake company as if it were Mozilla, but if you actually run Mozilla and have pro-traditional marriage views then you have to go do something else. Maybe Eich can launch a cake company.