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Several prominent gay writers deplored the furor that brought down Brendan Eich as CEO of Mozilla Corp. last week for supporting California’s anti-gay Proposition 8. Andrew Sullivan blogged against “a fanaticism more like the religious right than anyone else.” Jonathan Rauch tweeted, “I agree with @RameshPonnuru: trying to punish dissenters like Brendan Eich is no way to advance civil rights.” Frank Bruni wrote in the Grey Lady, “Such vilification won’t accelerate the timetable of victory, which is certain. And it doesn’t reflect well on the victors.”
I have no wish to embrace what Sullivan calls “McCarthyism applied by civil actors,” but I disagree. Eich’s resignation exemplified the operation of the free market that conservatives usually celebrate.
Fox News reporter Todd Starnes made Sullivan look restrained: “Why not demand that those who oppose gay marriage relinquish the right to own property? Why not take away their right to vote? Why not take away their children? Why not just throw them in jail? Why not force them to work in chain gangs? Why not call for public floggings? Or better yet, let’s just strap them down on gurneys, stick a needle in their arm and rid the world of these intolerant anti-gay bigots once and for all.”
Actually, I oppose such traditional conservative measures. If vilifying those who disagree with you is wrong, Sullivan and Starnes might consider toning it down themselves. No major LGBT group even weighed in on the controversy before Eich resigned, unless you’re somehow counting the OkCupid dating site. To agree with Ponnuru, Rauch had to overlook his denial that marriage equality has anything to do with civil rights.
The victim mongering is preposterous. Eich is not being publicly flogged. He is not denied access to a loved one during a hospital visit because his marriage is not recognized in the state he is passing through. He is not forced to wonder whether a court will allow for-profit companies at whim to bar him from buying products and services like other people. He is not being smeared as a traitor in a Senate hearing room, as so many of Sen. McCarthy’s victims were in the 1950s. That cheap comparison dishonors those who make it.
Portraying a gay left as intolerant as its persecutors is hyperbolic and reinforces the right wing lie that anti-gay discriminators are the true victims. They are not. There is no movement to deny recognition to straight people’s marriages. People attracted to the opposite sex are not targeted for hate crimes.
LGBTQ Nation recently reported an Alabama case in which a mother who disapproved of her son’s same-sex marriage is fighting to exclude his widower from his estate. Thank goodness the widower has the Southern Poverty Law Center on his side. Brendan Eich supported a law like Alabama’s denying recognition to gay people’s marriages. Such disgraceful treatment of loving couples is still happening, thanks to people like Brendan Eich. (And spare me the facile jibes; Barack Obama opposed Prop. 8.)
This is not about speech. It is about our lives. To the extent speech is involved, Eich is not the only one with the right to his own views. The developers who balked at creating apps for Mozilla Firefox were seriously troubled over it. I am on the side of those who fight for equal protection for our families, a fight that is not over. America did not disarm in the Pacific after its victory at Midway; it fought on to the end.
Those who call gay people intolerant for defending ourselves are twisting the concept beyond recognition. Civility is a virtue; but tolerance does not require us to treat a relentless assault against our rights as citizens like a disagreement at the dinner table.
Richard J. Rosendall is a writer and activist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.