Mozilla steps up damage control as pressure for CEO Eich's ouster mounts

Petition calling for Brendan Eich to renounce past support for a same-sex marriage ban nears 70K signatures

Mozilla, the maker of Firefox, went into damage control mode over the weekend in response to criticism that its new CEO had donated to a California anti-gay marriage ballot proposition in 2008.

That criticism has expanded to include an online petition calling for Brendan Eich's resignation or firing if he does not "make an unequivocal statement of support for marriage equality," as well as the online dating service OkCupid.com urging its members not to use Firefox.

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On its official blog Saturday, Mozilla clarified its stance on marriage equality, stating, "Mozilla supports equality for all, including marriage equality for LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender] couples. No matter who you are or who you love, everyone deserves the same rights and to be treated equally."

Mozilla issued the statement because critics had blasted its choice of Eich, creator of JavaScript and one of the co-founders of the organization, as its chief executive.

Eich was promoted to CEO on March 24.

"Over the past few days we have been asked a number of questions about Brendan Eich's appointment as CEO," Mozilla explained on March 29. "This post is to clarify Mozilla's official support of equality and inclusion for LGBT people."

In 2008, during the run-up to the passage of California's Proposition 8, Eich contributed $1,000 to ProtectMarriage.com, a collection of conservative and religious political activist groups that supported the ballot measure, which altered the state's constitution to ban same-sex marriages. The law was later declared unconstitutional by a federal court.

Although Eich's donation had first come to light in 2012, last week several Mozilla employees took to Twitter calling for his resignation.

Both Eich and Mozilla Foundation chairperson Mitchell Baker responded with blogs of their own last week.

"I am 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," Eich wrote on March 26.

Eich's comments and Baker's statement of support were obviously not deemed sufficient by Mozilla, which followed them with the Saturday blog explicitly backing marriage equality.

On Sunday, Mark Surman, the executive director of Mozilla, also weighed in. Surman, who titled his post "Mozilla is messy," argued that while those involved with the open-source developer were often at odds on all kinds of issues, they were of one mind when it came to the importance of an open Internet. "This ability to set aside differing and diverse beliefs to focus on a common cause is something we as Mozilla stand for on principle," Surman said.

Even so, Surman worried that harm been done to Mozilla by the strife over Eich's stance on gay marriage. "I worry that Mozilla is in a tough spot right now," Surman confided. "I worry that we do a bad job of explaining ourselves, that people are angry and don't know who we are or where we stand. And, I worry that in the time it takes to work this through and explain ourselves the things I love about Mozilla will be deeply damaged."

Some of that damage came in the form of a petition launched over the weekend by Credo Action, an online network of progressive activists. The online petition, which demanded Eich expressly support marriage equality -- or failing that, resign or be fired by Mozilla's board -- had collected more than 68,000 signatures by late Monday.

"Sixty-five thousand is definitely a strong response for a campaign sent on a Sunday afternoon," said Becky Bond, Credo Action's political director, in an email reply to questions earlier Monday when the signature total was several thousand less than near the day's end.

In a statement late Monday, a Mozilla spokesperson said, "We are sorry that Credo was unable to accept Mozilla's formal support of marriage equality" and Eich's previously-stated commitments to ensure equality at Mozilla and uphold the company's policies. Mozilla's statement did not, as Credo Action's petition requested, include Eich's personal promise to support equal rights to marriage for all.

Elsewhere, OkCupid.com became the first website to encourage a boycott of Firefox. Members of the dating service running Firefox now see an interstitial message that states, "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."

Users can continue to the website with Firefox, but only after seeing the message and links to alternative browsers, including Google's Chrome and Apple's Safari. In what may have been a Freudian slip, OkCupid labeled Microsoft's browser as "Internet Exploder."

"OkCupid never reached out to us to let us know of their intentions, nor to confirm facts," the same Mozilla spokesperson said Monday evening of the site's boycott.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed. His email address is gkeizer@computerworld.com.

See more by Gregg Keizer on Computerworld.com.

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This story, "Mozilla steps up damage control as pressure for CEO Eich's ouster mounts" was originally published by Computerworld .

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