There is no question that Eich’s resignation under pressure highlights a larger trend: the increasingly prevailing view that all opposition to same-sex marriage is bigotry akin to racism. In many ways, this attitudinal shift has helped same-sex marriage (for instance, by advancing the judicial opinion that discrimination against gay unions has no rational basis). But if it turns to persecution of dissent, the consequences will be bad not only for intellectual freedom and the cultural climate but ultimately, perhaps, for gay equality as well.
In some ways, the Eich scandal is not the best test case for free speech: being CEO of a company heavily dependent on community relations inevitably limits one’s ability to take controversial positions. As usual, it’s a matter of whose proverbial ox is being gored: How many of Eich’s conservative defenders would be upset if he was in hot water over a donation to a militant atheist group, to the proposed mosque near Ground Zero, or to an organization seeking a total ban on handguns? And, of course, social conservatives have hardly been averse to using the power of the market against pro-gay expression (recall, in the late 1990s, the “Ellen” boycott and that of ABC’s “Nothing Sacred,” a series about a Catholic priest who questioned church teachings on sexuality).
However, conservative hypocrisy doesn’t make the liberal version better. And, given that Eich was hardly a crusader against same-sex marriage, the “outing” of his donation, the organized anti-Firefox campaign after his promotion, and the pressure on him to publicly recant and affirm his support for same-sex marriage do have nasty inquisitorial overtones.