Simon Williamson

An anti-anti-gay public

2014-04-11 09:31

Simon Williamson

America, and the world, has spent the week discussing Mozilla CEO Brandon Eich who was forced out of his role after getting into a massive public relations spat over a donation he made to California's Proposition 8, an initiative to ban gay marriage in the state, in 2008.

My Facebook and Twitter feeds have been inundated with opinions about how modern liberals need tolerance for other people's views, even as liberalism is winning the social war (and it is), particularly here in the US. But framing the debate about civil gay marriage as one equal side versus the other does enormous injustice to those who spend their lives being forced to plead with the mainstream for civil rights.

Brandon Eich doesn't just hold a differing opinion from gay people - he helped enabled a successful movement to ensure that civil marriage between gay couples was not recognised by his state. He forced the government to make gay couples pay more in taxes, to prevent couples of different nationalities from being able to live in the same country, to be each others' next of kin, to prevent sharing health insurance - in some cases from being able to see each other in hospital. Google how screwed up guardianship of children can get without civilly recognised marriages of gay people.

Liberal don't want anything special

Not one of these things would ever have affected Brandon Eich, but he went and gave money to a cause to prevent gay people living normal lives - not just agreed with them; he put bullets in their gun.

And we're supposed to treat that as just "a difference of opinion"?

The actual difference is, of course, that liberals, in this sense, don't want anything special. They don't (shouldn't) want to prevent or force anything in other peoples' lives. Gay marriage being recognised civilly does not affect anyone's churches, or religious beliefs. You are as entitled to not get gay married, and to convince other people to not get gay married as you ever have been.

Nothing in your life is going to change if you don't want to be gay married, or see anyone get gay married. It isn't affecting your religion because your church is under zero requirements to perform gay marriages (and anyone that is arguing forcing a religious institution to do so is constitutionally wrong). The liberal side of this argument affects the anti-gay marriage crowd in zero ways. The anti-gay marriage side firmly and deliberately messes with the lives of gay people.

Now I don't believe people should lose their jobs based on their beliefs, but what happened to Eich has been happening to those he came out against for ages. For years - legally - gay people have been discriminated against in the workplace (as well as in their homes, in their bars, on the streets, by police, by other civil servants).

Currently in the US you can still fire someone for being gay - for that reason alone. Unluckily for Eich, centuries of discrimination against gay people began arriving at a close as he decided to continue the crusade, and unlike the lucky anti-gay rights crusaders of yore, he became a figurehead and felt what the tidal wave of public distaste was like - something gay people have undergone for generations.

A scapegoat

Of course, Eich is a merely a symbol and a scapegoat. A tikkie over half of California voters - not an illiberal crowd, considering they went for President Barack Obama 61% to 36% on the same trip to the voting booth - agreed with him. It is quite conceivable that Eich has come around along with the rest of his state, where now six in 10 adults back the idea. He also didn't back Proposition 8 as a CEO of Mozilla - he did it personally. And he (reluctantly) apologised for the "hurt and pain" he caused too.

There is no way that having been a homophobe, racist, conservative, misogynist or incorrect at some point during your life should be something you are never given the chance to repair. And in many instances it shouldn't cost you your employment.

But am I personally sad, in this instance, to see homophobia punished by the free market? I am so intensely resistant to prejudice against my people that it's hard to divorce my personal feelings from broad principle. I'm aware that if the free market came out against gay people I would feel differently (gay people have buckets of personal experience on this front - we do actually know what it feels like).

I'm aware that I may not feel the same about this situation when I feel less emotional about it. I'm not really convinced I want the free market deciding everything.

Forced to react

But in this case the market decided it anyway.

It is largely because people were prepared to stop using Mozilla (or at least threaten to), that Eich was forced to leave. People voted with their metaphorical feet, and Mozilla was forced to react. If the market is finally on the side of gay people (and it isn't necessarily
- Chick-fil-A has overtaken KFC as the largest fast-food provider of chicken in the US) I'm finding it hard not to appreciate it for now.

But I'll gratuitously subtract one from all the gay teachers who have lost their jobs, without a fig being given over their ability to actually teach.

- Simon Williamson is a freelance writer. Follow @simonwillo on Twitter.

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