Five years ago amid the debates over marriage equality in California, Mozilla Firefox founder Brendan Eich made a $1,000 donation to proponents of Proposition 8, a ballot measure designed to revoke the rights of same sex couples in the state. Yesterday, that decision cost him his job as newly appointed CEO of the company with popular online dating app OK Cupid leading the charge for his dismissal.
We’ve come a long way since Proposition 8 passed in 2008. In the years since, the California Supreme Court would reverse the ruling, and less than a year ago the Supreme Court would back the lower court’s ruling as they declared The Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional and a violation of 5th amendment rights.
As of a year ago, the majority of Americans polled approved of legislation that would legalize equal marriage at the federal level. Politically, the position of being against marriage equality is becoming increasingly unpopular.
This shift in opinion carries throughout our culture. In the past few months we’ve witnessed same sex marriages conducted at the Grammy’s, and we’ve seen Jason Collins, the first out NBA player, suit up to play at Barclays Center in Houston to little fanfare. There is no way that Brendan Eich could not have seen this coming and yet the controversy over his appointment and his subsequent dismissal are evidence of the new standards being set by an increasingly connected society.
Eich was appointed as the new CEO of Mozilla Firefox less than two weeks ago and the backlash against his anti-gay marriage views was immediate. Folks chimed in from all corners with popular dating app OkCupid releasing a feature that encouraged users browsing the site on Mozilla Firefox to switch browsers because of Eich’s views. The message read in part:
If individuals like Mr. Eich had their way, then roughly 8 percent of the relationships we’ve worked so hard to bring about would be illegal. Equality for gay relationships is personally important to many of us here at OkCupid. But it’s professionally important to the entire company. OkCupid is for creating love. Those who seek to deny love and instead enforce misery, shame, and frustration are our enemies, and we wish them nothing but failure.
Mozilla released a statement yesterday announcing Eich’s decision to step down that doesn’t directly address the controversy but states:
We have employees with a wide diversity of views. Our culture of openness extends to encouraging staff and community to share their beliefs and opinions in public. This is meant to distinguish Mozilla from most organizations and hold us to a higher standard. But this time we failed to listen, to engage, and to be guided by our community.
OkCupid’s responded to the announcement praising Mozilla for the action taken:
We are pleased that OkCupid’s boycott has brought tremendous awareness to the critical matter of equal rights for all partnerships.
That this decision was inspired by a dating website standing up for the rights of their membership is a pretty powerful reminder of how far we’ve come. Nobody at Mozilla was bullied. Mozilla empowered someone in leadership who had views that went against those of their users, and it was this decision that prompted users of the browser to walk away.
The takeaway from this is that there’s a new standard for leadership. Eich’s position didn’t previously disqualify him from being a member of Mozilla’s team, but it did disqualify him from the leading the team.
That’s a welcome change in my book.
Photo by AJ Alfieri-Crispin, used under creative commons