Mozilla CEO on Gay Marriage Row: I Keep My Personal Beliefs Out of the Office

Brendan Eich, the new CEO of Mozilla, which is behind the Firefox web browser, is speaking out amid criticism that he made a donation in 2008 to California's amendment defining marriage as being between one man and one woman. Eich said he keeps his personal beliefs and work separate.

A man is seen next to a Firefox logo at a Mozilla stand during the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, February 28, 2013.
A man is seen next to a Firefox logo at a Mozilla stand during the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, February 28, 2013. | (Photo: Reuters/Albert Gea)

Saying he has kept his beliefs out of Mozilla "all these 15 years we've been going," Eich told the Guardian on Tuesday that the principle that he has operated by and that is also formalized in the company's code of conduct "is it's really about keeping anything that's not central to our mission out of our office."

Following Eich's appointment last week, groups on both sides of the gay marriage debate have called for a boycott of Mozilla, based in Silicon Valley, Calif. The dating website OKCupid and some Mozilla employees have asked the software company to remove Eich over his donation to Proposition 8. Meanwhile, conservatives, including Robert P. George, a professor at Princeton University and chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, have refused to use the company's Firefox web browser, citing the tech corporation's criticism of those who support traditional marriage.

The controversy began last week when Eich was internally promoted as chief executive of the company. Eich, who also created JavaScript, previously worked as the company's chief technology officer since 2005. In 2008, Eich made a $1,000 donation in support of California's Proposition 8 that sought to amend the state constitution to define marriage as being between one man and one woman. The proposition was approved by voters but later struck down in court.

Eich's promotion to CEO drew criticism, with some Mozilla employees and other activists expressing their concern online. Sydney Moyer, a member of the company's engagement team, tweeted: "I'm an employee of @mozilla and cannot reconcile having @BrendanEich as CEO with our org's culture & mission. Brendan, please step down."

Other Mozilla employees began tweeting similar messages, including Chris McAvoy, lead of Mozilla's Open Badges project, who wrote: "I love @mozilla but I'm disappointed this week," referring to the appointment of Eich. McAvoy then asked Eich to step down as CEO, adding that he's fortunate to work for a company where he can express himself on issues such as gay marriage "without fear of retribution."

Criticism from Mozilla employees and other groups prompted the software company, and Eich himself, to release statements clarifying that they support the inclusion of all people, regardless of their sexuality.

"Mozilla's mission is to make the Web more open so that humanity is stronger, more inclusive and more just. This is why Mozilla supports equality for all, including marriage equality for LGBT couples. No matter who you are or who you love, everyone deserves the same rights and to be treated equally," the company said in a statement on its official blog.

Eich also issued his own statement on his personal blog, in which he promised to "foster equality" for all individuals through his role as CEO at Mozilla. He also listed several ways in which he will foster such equality, including working with leaders of the LGBT community.

"I know some will be skeptical about this, and that words alone will not change anything. I can only ask for your support to have the time to 'show, not tell;' and in the meantime express my sorrow at having caused pain," Eich wrote, adding that he is "committed to ensuring that Mozilla is, and will remain, a place that includes and supports everyone, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, age, race, ethnicity, economic status, or religion."

He also told CNET, "Mozilla has always worked according to principles of inclusiveness. It may be challenging for a CEO, but everyone in our community can have different beliefs about all sorts of things that may be in conflict. They leave them at the door when they come to work on the Mozilla mission. We are a broad, big, mission-based organization. It's not to say some of those other beliefs aren't as contributing to the open Web, but we will not succeed globally without being maximally inclusive by leaving exclusionary beliefs at the door. I've done that for 16 years. I've done open source for 20 years. I think my reputation is well-known."

Eich has refused to talk about his personal beliefs and where he stands on gay marriage. He told the Guardian that his beliefs are not relevant. He also commented to CNET, "I prefer not to talk about my beliefs. One of the things about my principles of inclusiveness is not just that you leave it at the door, but that you don't require others to put targets on themselves by labeling their beliefs, because that will present problems and will be seen as divisive."

While some have boycotted Mozilla for Eich's support of traditional marriage, Robert P. George, an influential conservative, has called on those supporting religious freedom to boycott Mozilla for not defending Eich's beliefs.

"The employees of Mozilla evidently think that people like me, and perhaps you, are not morally fit to be employees of their company," George wrote on his Facebook page.

"The CEO isn't out yet, but he has already caved to the pressure, apologizing for 'causing pain' by supporting marriage. … That won't be enough. His 'sin' is unforgivable under the new morality. He'll soon be gone."

With that, George said he deleted Mozilla Firefox from his computer.

"If I'm not morally fit to be their employee, I'm not morally fit to use their products. If you are a faithful Catholic, Evangelical, Eastern Orthodox Christian, Mormon, Orthodox Jew, Muslim, or member of any other tradition that believes that marriage is fundamentally the institution that unites a man and woman as husband and wife to be father and mother to any children born of their union, providing those children with the inestimable blessing of being brought up in the committed bond of the man and woman whose union brought them into being, or even if you believe in marriage thus understood quite apart from membership in any community of faith, I would ask you to do the same," George urged.

Christie Koehler, who works as Mozilla's education lead on their community building team, defended both the company and Eich on her personal blog.

"To be clear, I'm personally disappointed about Brendan's donation. However, aside from how it affected me emotionally, I have nothing to indicate that it's materially hurt my work within the Mozilla community or as a Mozilla employee," Koehler stated. "Mozilla offers the best benefits I have ever had and goes out of its way to offer benefits to its employees in same-sex marriages or domestic partnerships on par with those in heterosexual marriages.

"Certainly it would be problematic if Brendan's behavior within Mozilla was explicitly discriminatory, or implicitly so in the form of repeated micro-aggressions. I haven't personally seen this (although to be clear, I was not part of Brendan's reporting structure until today). To the contrary, over the years I have watched Brendan be an ally in many areas and bring clarity and leadership when needed."

Although the Mozilla controversy received far more criticism last week when Eich's promotion was announced, some groups continue to announce their boycott of the software company this week. On Monday, the dating website OKCupid posted a message on its homepage encouraging site visitors to use a different Internet browser than Firefox due to Eich's previous donation.

"Hello there, Mozilla Firefox user. Pardon this interruption of your OkCupid experience. Mozilla's new CEO, Brendan Eich, is an opponent of equal rights for gay couples. We would therefore prefer that our users not use Mozilla software to access OkCupid," the message reads. The message further states that the issue of same-sex marriage is close to many employees at OKCupid, and they "wish … nothing but failure" to those who oppose same-sex marriage. The site does allow Firefox users to continue but adds another message at the end strongly encouraging them to use a different Internet browser.

In response to OKCupid's move, Mozilla issued a statement to Gizmodo: "Mozilla supports equality for all, including marriage equality for LGBT couples. No matter who you are or who you love, everyone deserves the same rights and to be treated equally. OK cupid never reached out to us to let us know of their intentions, nor to confirm facts."

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