| SAN FRANCISCO, April 4
SAN FRANCISCO, April 4 Tech workers in Silicon
Valley debated on Friday whether Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich got
the comeuppance he deserved or was himself a victim of
intolerance when he resigned under pressure this week amid
outrage over his opposition to same-sex marriage.
Some, especially a dating website that had urged its users
to boycott Mozilla's popular Firefox web browser, cheered Eich's
resignation after less than two weeks as CEO of the nonprofit
software company. Others viewed him as a victim and called his
critics intolerant of people with different views.
Mozilla co-founder Eich, who invented the programming
Proposition 8, which sought to ban same-sex marriage in
California. Voters approved the measure, but it was struck down
last June by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Eich did not respond to requests for comment on Friday, but
he had posted an apology on his blog before he resigned for the
pain his stance had caused. His views about gay marriage had
been known within Mozilla for nearly two years, but controversy
erupted after he was appointed CEO in late March.
Rarebit founders Hampton and Michael Catlin, a gay developer
couple, pulled their software apps from Mozilla after Eich's
appointment. OkCupid.com, the online dating site, called for a
boycott of Firefox. Some on Twitter who identified themselves as
Mozilla employees called for Eich to resign.
On Friday, news of Eich's departure prompted a backlash on
Twitter. Many suggested Silicon Valley was intolerant of people
with views outside northern California's liberal mainstream.
Even Rarebit's Hampton Catlin said he had not anticipated
the issue's escalation and was saddened by Eich's resignation.
"We absolutely believe people should be allowed to have
personal opinions, but we also believe that we are allowed to
disagree and to try and change someone's mind by expressing our
own personal story," the Catlins said in a statement.
"We absolutely don't believe that everyone who voted yes on
Prop 8 is evil. In fact, we're sure that most of them just
didn't understand the impact the law would have."
They said many backers changed their mind due to "the impact
and pain that the law caused to friends and family members."
When Eich made his $1,000 donation in opposition to same-sex
marriage, the political landscape for gay rights was different
than it is today. Even presidential candidate Barack Obama and
his Democratic primary rival Hillary Clinton were five years
away from embracing legalization of same-sex marriage.
At the end of 2008, same-sex marriages were legal in only
Massachusetts and Connecticut. Today 17 states, including
California, allow such marriages.
Before his resignation, Eich posted an apology on his blog
for the "pain" he said his views had caused. He vowed to uphold
a culture of equality as Mozilla's CEO, including maintaining
the nonprofit's health benefits for same-sex couples.
In the Thursday post that announced his exit, Eich said he
was taking a rest to spend more time with his family and would
continue to work on browser software issues.
Some cheered his resignation, including OkCupid.
"We are pleased that OkCupid's boycott has brought
tremendous awareness to the critical matter of equal rights for
all partnerships," the company said on its main Twitter feed.
Silicon Valley's denizens pride themselves on being part of
a meritocratic community that welcomes talented workers
regardless of their origins or political and religious beliefs.
But analysts said the Eich episode showed there are limits
to that tolerance.
Gay rights are widely embraced in the San Francisco area,
long known for its thriving lesbian, gay, bisexual and
transgender community. Silicon Valley's tech culture reflects
that sensitivity, and its companies rely on their CEOs to set
that kind of tone, analysts said.
"We in Silicon Valley have a certain degree of hero
worship," said Jane English-Lueck, an anthropologist at San Jose
State University who has studied the industry's culture.
"The CEO has a lot of iconic visibility, and what a business
leader is saying is going to have meaning to people about that
Eich's departure is a reminder that high-profile corporate
executives can be taken to task for unpopular personal views,
said Bruce Barry, professor of management and sociology at
Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee.
"This might make other executives understand that you are
potentially accountable for your private views," Barry said.
"The fear of getting in trouble or not advancing causes people
to self-censor. But that's what rank-and-file employees have
Mozilla has apologized for not addressing the controversy
quickly enough and said it was wrestling with the conflict
between "equality and freedom of speech."
"Equality is necessary for meaningful speech," company
chairwoman Mitchell Baker said in a blog post announcing Eich's
resignation on Thursday. "And you need free speech to fight for
equality. Figuring out how to stand for both at the same time
can be hard."
(Additional reporting and writing by Edwin Chan; Editing by
David Lindsey and David Gregorio)