[Update, April 3:Brendan Eich has resigned as Mozilla CEO.]
I’ve known you for a long time, though it’s been a while since we’ve talked. I know that you’re a really smart guy. So your public support for Proposition 8, an attempt to ban same-sex marriage in California, confounded me. Your boss, Mitchell Baker, Mozilla’s executive chairwoman, expressed “surprise” when she learned about those views.
And now that you’re CEO of Mozilla—a position you’re eminently well suited for, and an appointment that we at ReadWrite applauded—many other people are puzzled, too.
Some members of your own staff are calling for you to step down as CEO. I actually don’t think that’s the right outcome here.
Let’s remember what’s at stake: Mozilla, the maker of the Firefox browser and other new technologies, is a bulwark against profit-seeking companies who seek to warp the standards of the Web to their own ends. Your ability to lead Mozilla without distraction or distrust is of vital interest—not just to your organization, but to every single human being who uses the Web.
A Marriage Of The Minds
I’ll admit that the legalization of same-sex marriage is a personal issue for me, one that I’ve dealt with for a decade. My husband and I have attempted to get married three times, with the last one finally sticking. Thanks to the Supreme Court’s ruling last year overturning Proposition 8 and key parts of the Defense of Marriage Act, both my state and my country now recognize my marriage.
One consequence of that: My husband and I will be able to file our federal taxes as a married couple for the first time this year. To understand the crazy illogic of this country’s shameful history of prohibitions on same-sex marriage, I really think you need to sit down and do your taxes four times, four different ways—as my husband and I have done in an attempt to comply with the various mutually contradictory state and federal laws around our relationship.
I take you at your word that your support of Proposition 8 (and political candidates who supported the gay-marriage ban) was not an act of personal animosity. But I do not understand how you can defend that decision today. That ban, after all, was found unconstitutional in California and the United States.
More importantly, key members of your most vital constituencies, Mozilla employees and developers, have expressed concerns about the personal views that led to your support of Proposition 8 in the first place. Key partners throughout the technology industry like Google and others opposed Proposition 8; it is hard to see how you can engage with these people while declaring your stance on the issue a personal, private matter. The distrust engendered by your silence threatens your ability to effectively govern Mozilla, and that’s a shame.
You’ve already said that you won’t bring any personal exclusionary beliefs to the workplace. But your actions in 2008 were not personal or private: They were public acts of speech, for which your constituents are rightly holding you accountable now. You did not merely express a personal view on same-sex marriage; you attempted to persuade others to support your point of view.
While no one can argue that your donation tipped the scales by itself, financial support for Proposition 8 played a role in its passage. And the temporary enactment of this unconstitutional attempt to deprive people of their civil rights led to real damage—damage that was eventually corrected by the courts, as injustices typically are.
An Apology That’s Due
So here’s what you need to do—not for your own sake, but for Mozilla, its employees, its developers, its partners, and Internet users everywhere.
Stop saying that this was merely a private matter that won’t affect your work as Mozilla’s CEO. That’s disingenuous and beneath a leader of your stature.
Say that whatever chain of logic led you to conclude that your personal views required you to support Proposition 8 was flawed, erroneous, incorrect. You may well maintain those same views—that’s your prerogative—but you don’t have to draw the same conclusions from them today as you did six years ago.
Go further. Say that you support the rights of people to enter into same-sex marriages everywhere. Say that you will not only support employees in the United States who are in same-sex marriages, but that you will also fight for the civil rights of Mozilla employees who work in societies with less progressive views.
Finally, make a donation equal in amount to the money you gave to Proposition 8 and candidates who supported it to the Human Rights Campaign or another organization that fights for the civil rights of LGBT people.
I honor those achievements and the new position they have earned for you. I want you to honor them, too, by making this right.
Don’t let a mistake you made six years ago become a distraction. Just admit you were wrong. Say you’re sorry. And make amends.
Photo by Frédéric Chateaux