The recent pressured "resignation" of Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich over his contribution to a winning 2008 California ballot proposition spurred an open letter by 58 prominent gay marriage supporters, published in Real Clear Politics, calling for tolerance and openness to diverse opinions on the issue.
"There is no evidence that Brendan Eich, the Mozilla CEO who resigned over his $1,000 donation to California’s Proposition 8 campaign, believed in or practiced any form of discrimination against Mozilla’s LGBT employees. That would be a very different case," the authors write.
The letter is signed by many of the most prominent advocates of gay rights, both from media, academia and public affairs. The list includes several prominent law professors, as well as journalists such as Jonathan Rauch at the Atlantic Monthly, Will Saletan at Slate, and James Kirchick at the Daily Beast.
Rauch, who is himself gay and has long been a vocal gay rights advocate, has also frequently expressed the hope that opposition to gay marriage will never treated as if it were racism.
“I think and I hope that gay people, having been on the receiving end of [stigmatizing] treatment, will be more tolerant and civil in the way they express their views," Rauch told the Deseret News last year. Noting that Catholics and other Christians have deep traditions regulating marriage and sexuality, Rauch said he doubted opposition to gay marriage “is going to be the equivalent of running around spouting white supremacist. It’s going to be pretty hard to marginalize that."
One of the signers was David Blankenhorn of the Institute for American Values, who two years ago reversed his opposition to gay marriage in a New York Times op ed.
The letters' signatories emphatically support gay marriage, "but the consequence of holding a wrong opinion should not be the loss of a job. Inflicting such consequences on others is sadly ironic in light of our movement’s hard-won victory over a social order in which LGBT people were fired, harassed, and socially marginalized for holding unorthodox opinions."
The letter points out that Eich was pressured to leave Mozilla for a donation to the Proposition 8 ballot at a time when the majority of Americans shared his view.
"Is opposition to same-sex marriage by itself, expressed in a political campaign, beyond the pale of tolerable discourse in a free society? We cannot wish away the objections of Christian, Jewish and Muslim faith traditions, or browbeat them into submission. Even in our constitutional system, persuasion is a minority’s first and best strategy. It has served us well, and we should not be done with it," the authors write.
"The natural consequence of true liberty is diversity," they write. "Unless a society can figure out a way to reach perfect agreement, conflicting views will be inevitable. Any effort to impose conformity, through government or any other means, by punishing the misguided for believing incorrectly will impoverish society intellectually and oppress it politically."
One who declined to sign the letter was Ilya Somin, a law professor at George Mason University, who wrote in the Washington Post's Volokh Conspiracy that he agreed with the overarching premise, but he did not agree that political expression can never be used as a basis for firing someone.
"I think this is true in the vast majority of cases, but not always," Somin wrote. "For example, few would object if Eich had been fired for donating money to the KKK or a neo-Nazi organization — even if he had otherwise performed his duties well, and had never mistreated any of Mozilla’s black or Jewish employees. Despite some deplorable PC excesses, overall the effort to stigmatize racism and Nazism has produced some beneficial results."