Mozilla headquarters Reuters

Updated Friday:

Brendan Eich announced his resignation as chief executive of Mozilla on Thursday. See the full story here.

Original Post:

The fallout over Brendan Eich, the new chief executive of Mozilla Corp., continues to grow, proving yet again that employees who express anti-gay viewpoints can quickly become a major liability for the companies that hire them.

As was widely reported last week, Eich gave $1,000 to the campaign supporting California’s Proposition 8, an amendment to the state constitution banning same-sex marriages. The ballot initiative passed in 2008 but was later struck down as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. Eich’s donation is more than six years in the past, but it gained wider attention recently after he was promoted from CTO to CEO at the Mountain View, Calif.-based tech firm, best known for its popular Firefox browser. As news of Eich’s donation spread, calls for his resignation swept quickly and emphatically throughout social media circles.

It’s not the first time we’ve been here. In 2012, Chick-fil-A’s chief operating officer, Dan Cathy, sparked a nationwide controversy when he said publicly that he supported the “biblical definition of the family unit.” And more recently, Phil Robertson was swiftly suspended from his A&E reality show, “Duck Dynasty,” after he equated homosexuality with bestiality in an interview with GQ magazine.

In both cases, contrarian commentators were quick to spout discussions surrounding free speech and the right to one’s personal beliefs, but gay-rights advocates say such discussions conflate boycotts with censorship. “People have to understand that when they express a view, the general public has the right to react to that,” said Brian Silva, executive director of Marriage Equality USA. “Our country is becoming more accepting and more tolerant, and companies have to look at the decisions they make, whether it’s hiring leadership or who they choose to donate their money to. Their employees, as well as their patrons, value a company that treats people with respect and dignity.”

Eich, for his part, has attempted to defuse some of the backlash, writing on his personal blog about Mozilla’s -- and his own -- “commitment to equality.” However, he has so far fallen short of expressly denouncing Prop 8. His critics have taken his failure to do so as further evidence that Eich’s views on gay marriage remain unchanged, and those critics are being equally vocal in their response. On Twitter, Mozilla employees have been calling on Eich to step down.

The social-media mutiny of sorts is unusual but not unheard of. Last week, IBT Media was caught up in a somewhat similar situation when an article in the Guardian asserted that one of IBT’s founders and current owners endorsed an article that said gay people can be "cured." Peter Goodman, the newly minted editor in chief of International Business Times, quickly took to Twitter to reject such viewpoints:

For Mozilla, meanwhile, it’s only getting worse. On Monday, OkCupid, one of the most trafficked dating websites on the Internet, greeted Firefox users with a message asking that they switch browsers before visiting the site.

“Politics is normally not the business of a website, and we all know there’s a lot more wrong with the world than misguided CEOs. So you might wonder why we’re asserting ourselves today. This is why: we’ve devoted the last ten years to bringing people -- all people -- together. If individuals like Mr. Eich had their way, then roughly 8% 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.”

Few would contest that marriage equality is one of the defining civil rights issues of our time. Over the last two decades, public perception on gay marriage has shifted at an unprecedented pace. It should come as no surprise that many are having a hard time keeping up, but every worthwhile shift in consciousness has its holdouts. At a certain point, companies have to ask if they want to move with society or get left behind. Imagine a chief executive publicly proclaiming, for instance, that the races shouldn’t mix, or that women shouldn’t be allowed to vote. Would we not expect appropriate outrage?

Eich can promise, as he did in his blog post, that “Mozilla’s inclusive health benefits policies will not regress in any way” now that he’s running things. But it’s not Mozilla’s health care plan that's at issue; it’s the fact that its chief executive contributed a large sum of money to a campaign whose expressed purpose was to deny basic civil rights to a segment of the population. Had Eich, at any point, expressed true regret for that decision, Silva, for one, thinks the public response would have been a lot less harsh. “We have to believe that people who are not for equal rights can change their mind,” he said. “In fact, it’s what our whole movement is based on. And so we embrace, celebrate and support people who move from being anti-equality to being in favor of treating people equally.”

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