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 language
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.
[to top of second column]
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
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,
"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 company."
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 always
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)
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