This post is the second in a conversation I hope to engage in here at Stone Soup regarding the so-called “free speech crisis,” allegedly conducted by “leftists,” currently underway in America (and more specifically, the internet). My last post can be found here, and some issues raised in today’s piece refers back to that one; more importantly, today’s responds to an article by Conor Friedersdorf in The Atlantic entitled, “Mozilla’s Gay-Marriage Litmus Test Violates Liberal Values.” Again, reading the article is not necessary for moving on to my comments, but it helps.
Today we gather to weep for the martyrdom of an ex-CEO who donated $1,000 to ensuring marriage rights were stripped from a class of people.
But first, Atlantic staffer Conor Friedersdorf wants you to know just how much he supports same-sex marriage. Like, totally one hundred percent “I have a gay friend I swear to god” supports same-sex marriage. He says that in 2008 he “spent more time arguing in favor of gay marriage than any other issue.” He details how he, as a right-leaning moderate (read: conservative), tried to convince conservatives and coworkers about the merits of same sex marriage. Conor Friedersdorf loves same-sex marriage, and don’t you dare think otherwise.
Conor’s first argument is that a majority of Californians at the time, as well as Barack Obama, believed that “gay marriage ought to be illegal.” Here we have to already split hairs. Barack Obama has always been fuzzy with his support on same sex marriage rights, but he was openly against Proposition 8, despite his lack of support for same-sex marriage. You can call it a contradiction in terms, but you you can’t just say, “If you wanna fire Eich, you gotta get rid of Obama too!” Not going to work, Conor, but good call on knowing how much your average liberal reader loves Obama. He’s like the best.
Friedersdorf then writes that if we are to live in a society where people’s professional lives are also affected by the things they do in private, “it will damage our society.”
And so here’s the thing that upsets me: what Eich did was not some political gesturing or belief held only in his mind that had no ramifications. Nor did he not intend for his actions to have consequences (since motive has become a predominant neoliberal concern in discussions of homophobia/sexism/racism). He purposefully donated to an anti-gay campaign, which succeeded. People’s rights were taken away, overnight, in small (but non-zero) part due to action that Eich intended and hoped would come true. How is it that once he becomes CEO of a popular company, a position that is tantamount to holding office in terms of the power, respect and prestige we have for corporate America, we can just ignore that fact? And it wasn’t just holier-than-thou leftists clamoring for Eich’s resignation; it was Mozilla employees themselves who said they did not feel comfortable with a boss who financially contributed to the stripping away of their rights.
But according to Friedersdorf, what’s done is done, so no use crying over spilled milk. He writes: “Proposition 8 was overturned. Gay marriage is legal in California. Having a CEO who opposed gay marriage now would in no way diminish equal marriage rights for gays.” You hear that, same-sex marriage proponents? Demonstrating to anti-marriage activists that if they try to act against equal rights there will be consequences would, according to Friedersdorf, in no way diminish the cause. Move on, nothing to see here.
Except for Friedersdorf, the real fear is in the slippery slope. You liberals might think you’ve got the bull by the horns now, but what about when unpopular opinions are thrown back at you and your for-profit, private sector job (that is where everybody works anyway)? Friedersdorf asks, “Would American society be better off if stakeholders in various corporations began to investigate leadership’s political activities on abortion and to lobby for the termination of anyone who took what they regard to be the immoral, damaging position?” Ooooh he’s got you there, liberals. Conor knows you like abortion, but what if you work for an advertising firm in Oklahoma and one day your political beliefs are revealed?
I’d say that that’s when we can begin the actual martyrdom, but I’m not persuaded it’s going to happen. Because by analogizing to abortion, Friedersdorf is using pundit speak to label both it and same-sex marriage as Divisive and Contentious Issues, and continuing with Lovett’s point from earlier, asking, hey, can’t we all can just agree to disagree about these issues? I mean, do we really live in a country where simply holding a contrarian belief means you’re fired from your job, your livelihood taken away?
No, not really. To ask for people to agree to disagree is to ask for the dominant political voice to win outright. Just because people disagree about abortion and same-sex marriage doesn’t mean (again going back to triangulation) that the two sides are both equal. Opposing same-sex marriage is bigoted, and we need to live in a society where people are held responsible for their bigoted actions. Because remember, Eich did not simply hold a private belief, at which point I would agree that forcing his resignation would be inappropriate.
But that’s probably why, after this article was written, Friedersdorf wrote articles entitled, “Why Gay-Marriage Opponents Should Not Be Treated Like Racists” and “A 23-Year-Old Gay-Marriage Opponent Explains Herself.” You see, this is why Friedersdorf opened his piece trying to convince you, dear reader, why he was so definitely one hundred percent not even a second thought in favor of same-sex marriage: because he really likes defending those against same-sex marriage. Friedersdorf writes in the first of his secondary pieces: “Opposition to gay marriage can be rooted in the insidious belief that gays are inferior, but it’s also commonly rooted in the much-less-problematic belief that marriage is a procreative institution, not meant to join couples for love and companionship alone.”
Oh my god. Really? “Much-less-problematic?” That’s the best you can come up with, a nicer-sounding rewording of the typical ludicrous right-wing argument that gays can’t make babies? The argument that ignores the infertile, ignores the elderly, ignores the fact that gays can adopt except when the same people who think marriage is there to raise babies pass laws saying gay couples can’t raise babies?
Conor, I’m starting to think that your essay should’ve been about why firing Eich violated conservative principles, not liberal ones.
In his other secondary essay, Friedersdorf trumps out a 23-year-old Christian woman who explains why she is against same-sex marriage. Friedersdorf asks, “[S]hould society stigmatize this young woman as a bigot and punish her professionally for the mix of attitudes and beliefs expressed above?” Well, let’s see, Conor. Is she a CEO, a position that requires much more responsibility and public spotlight? Did she use her time and/or resources to make sure gay people cannot marry? If both of those, then yes, her too! But besides Friedersdorf’s attempt to infantilize the anti-gay advocate (“c’mon guys, she’s a young Christian girl! Lay off her!”), her positions are really goddamn offensive:
“I believe that God, who created all people, has His own intention for what marriage is supposed to be. I believe He deliberately created two inherently different, non-interchangeable types of humans so that each one could permanently join and start a family. In both Testaments, the Bible mentions that homosexual behavior is a sin…The reality is that I am trying to show others God’s picture.”
Okay, you can rationalize being against same-sex marriage as being part of God’s will (not to mention how transphobic this point of view is), but guess what, Friedersdorf and anonymous, victimized Christian woman? I can also call you bigoted, and I don’t care much if you like it or not. And I can push for you to get fired as CEO once you try to take away rights of Americans, because I also have a voice.
So here’s where I get angry. Friedersdorf says that those who called for Eich to get fired “should face and own up to the fact that they helped force out a CEO solely because he disagreed with them about same-sex marriage.” No Conor, it was not about disagreement; it was about action. Eich was actively contributing to discrimination against gays. And here’s where it gets very serious, and this may seem like strong language but I believe it with all my heart: Brendan Eich was harming the bodies of LGBTQ Americans. He was acting violently, and it’s not intolerant for a group to defend itself. It was a courageous form of defiance, and I’m proud of them for succeeding.
And so here’s where I’d like to end things on both Lovett and Friedersdorf: when both of you speak, political disagreements sound innocuous and without consequence. Maybe it’s because you are both white, cisgendered, heterosexual males (as am I, mind you). But there are real consequences from the actions of others, whether it’s giving a thousand dollars to strip rights away or using racist language in public. Every day, people from marginalized groups suffer, tremendously, for the transgressions of Polite America, which refuses to acknowledge or even consider that one side of the argument could be bigoted, no matter the lengths to which that side goes to hurt the other side. By reframing active discrimination as just another political talking point, you are euphemizing atrocities.
I do not weep for Stephen Colbert or Brendan Eich. They will be just fine. I do worry that neoliberal triangulation will water down, or shut down, dissenting voices. I do worry, deeply, that discriminated-against groups will continue to live in pain, and when they scream for mercy from the pits of hell, the response from on high will be, “Please stop yelling, we’re trying to discuss the level of your pain up here.”