Should Homophobes Be Fired?

I’ve been vocally and financially supporting legalizing gay marriage for a long time, so I’ll admit to some schadenfreude when OKCupid called out Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich for supporting Prop 8’s ban on same-sex marriage. But lest we forget, most Californians did. Are we to cut off business, social, and political relationships with all of them?

There’s been a sea change in public opinion about gay marriage in recent years–emphasis on change. In 2004, two-thirds of Americans opposed gay marriage and barely a third supported it. Ten years later, those numbers have flipped.

If you dig, you’re going to find ugly beliefs in most of your neighbors’ pasts. Almost every single American political actor, left or right, has given money to or voted for politicians who opposed gay marriage. Where are the outraged, pitchfork-wielding mobs for all the Clinton, Bush, and Obama voters? Is it just cognitive dissonance and hypocrisy, or am I missing some important moral difference?

I’m strongly opposed to almost all of the policies those presidents enacted, not just their anti-gay positions. Am I obligated to apply a political litmus to the officers, employees, and shareholders of every corporation with which I interact? OKCupid’s CEO has also given money to a virulently anti-gay politician–do I have to boycott them, too?

I have to wonder, now that we’ve hounded him out of his job for supporting a bad law 6 years ago, have we punished Eich enough? How much farther must we pursue him to get revenge? Should he be able to work anywhere? Just how arbitrarily menial and low-profile do his commercial relationships have to become before we admit his politics aren’t relevant?

Then there’s the question of collateral damage: Mozilla is bigger than one man. Do they all deserve to be punished for their coworker’s thought-crime of agreeing with Senator Barack Obama? I made this point during the Duck Dynasty flap:

Did your local Chik-fil-A franchise owner or fry cook deserve to be punished? How about the lighting and sound people who worked on Ender’s Game? At some point you have to stop applying this 6-degrees-of separation-from-bigotry political litmus test in order to engage in associations that have nothing to do with politics. … One of the great things about the market is that it allows people with irreconcilable beliefs to cooperate without knowing or caring about each other’s political or religious identity.

I want to convince people to change their minds about gay rights because love, decency, and respect for the basic principles of a free society demand it. I don’t think I want to win by threatening people, “Recant, or we’ll come after your livelihood, and the livelihoods of everyone you work with.” I also think that’s likely to backfire, by generating mistrust of the rhetoric of tolerance and by turning bigots into martyrs. But maybe I’m just being idealistic.