If they can hound out Brendan Eich for being anti-gay marriage, who will be next?
By Tim Stanley Politics Last updated: April 7th, 2014
In 1981, Ronald Reagan fired 11,345 air traffic controllers after a two day strike. This simple piece of executive action sent a powerful message: up with strikes the US government would not put. The result was a cowed union movement and decades of industrial peace. In short, a targeted sacking can change history.
Social conservatives might be experiencing their own air traffic controller moment. Brendan Eich, the CEO of Mozilla, has been forced to resign from his job because he once donated to an anti-gay marriage campaign. This is deeply unfair. At the time that he made the donation (2008), Barack Obama was also opposed to gay marriage – as was Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton and almost all the leadership of the Democratic Party. Eich always stressed that his personal views were separate from his work and he pledged to abide by Mozilla’s pro-equality policies. Yet the discovery that he once backed a ballot measure that – lest we forget – received the endorsement of the Californian electorate made him a fair target for a witch hunt. And his "martyrdom" hurts all social conservatives everywhere – just like the dismissal of those 11,345 tin pushers hurt other union members, too – because he is widely recognized to be a titan of his industry, hitherto unimpeachable. As Rod Dreher asks, “If they can knock off a guy like Eich, one of the co-founders of the company and one of the most important figures in the tech industry, because of his belief in traditional marriage, who is safe?”
Who indeed? There was an implicit understanding when the gay marriage campaign kicked off that its ambitions were limited to achieving equality in civil institutions. It was never part of the deal that people who didn’t believe in equality would be forced, by humiliation or statute, publicly to change their minds and embrace the cause. Yet there are already signs that support for gay marriage is being established as a litmus test of social acceptability. Parts of the LGBTQ movement will not cease from mental fight until gay marriage is not just legal but enthusiasm for it part of the collective imagination. Ruth Hunt of Stonewall writes,
[Marriage equality] is an important milestone. But we’re not done yet. We must use our skills and energy to make sure homophobia, biphobia and transphobia are eradicated from our schools, our streets, ours sports fields, our workplaces, our churches and our homes.
It will be hard for orthodox Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Muslims etc to read those words and not interpret them as a threat.
Some conservatives say that we should’ve seen this coming. Joe Shaw, a Catholic academic with strong views not for those of a sensitive disposition, writes,
It was always just a matter of time before liberals moved on from the demolition of the more concrete barriers to pursuing the fulfilment of one's desires, such as laws prohibiting certain persons from entering certain professions, or company policies which effectively do the same thing, to the less concrete barriers which come from attitudes … American (neo-)conservatives and Catholics, especially, have fallen into a trap which should have been obvious, by going along with the liberal / neutral state / free speech system. They thought that if they conceded the free speech of others, their own free speech, including the freedom to proclaim the Gospel, would be protected. Sorry, guys, you were fooled; it was never going to work. A system of 'tolerance' cannot tolerate intolerance.
If Dr Shaw is right then his analysis tells us something about the naïveté of conservatives but even more about how the Left has changed. Once upon a time it wanted the state to defend the rights of individuals but also to respect freedom of conscience and permit difference. Now its goal is actively to change society, using all political and cultural means at its disposal. That it does so in the name of promoting tolerance is blackly ironic. Tolerance means putting up with something you don’t necessarily like; it shouldn't mean being compelled to show approval for something you fundamentally can’t accept. And for religious people, a belief in Biblical morality is as much part of their identity as loving someone of the same gender is for those who are gay. Incidentally, it is perfectly possible to be non-religious and anti-gay marriage, or even gay yet anti-gay marriage. People have multiple identities that rarely conform to archetypes. Trying to define all political conflict in binaries (gay v religious; women v men) usually fails to recognise how incredibly complicated life is – and it’s the many contradictions among and within us that make tolerance so incredibly important.
There’s a case for saying, “Let’s not overreact” to the Eich story. After all, he resigned rather than was sacked and power is still tilted towards what the crazier Left would dub “heteronormative, bipedal, white, Christian omniphobes.” Eich only lost his job: a teenager struggling with his sexuality, and being bullied for being “different”, could end up losing his life. If the Right loses perspective about this story then it risks sounding hysterical and losing its status as an important social critic.
But conservatives still need to stand up for pluralism. They have rights, too – even if the causes that they use their free speech to articulate do offend our cultural "superiors". Sorry, but being offended from time to time is a small price to pay for liberty.