In the torrent of debate flowing about Brendan Eich’s resignation from Mozilla because of his support of an anti-gay rights ballot proposition (our contribution is here), not much attention has been paid to the character of the campaign his money helped finance.
It’s proper to revisit that campaign, which established a new standard for odious political advertising. That’s a real achievement, given the deceitful nature of most of the TV campaigns for and against California ballot propositions.
Over at Slate, Mark Joseph Stern has compiled a remembrance, with videos, of the Proposition 8 campaign to which Eich donated $1,000. As Stern observes, the focus of the campaign was on the effect of gay marriage on children. (Recall that Prop 8 overturned a California court ruling legalizing gay marriage and wrote a gay marriage prohibition into the state constitution, so a “yes” vote was anti-gay marriage.)
More contemptably, several of the commercials suggested that legal gay marriage would “confuse” children who would have to be taught about it in school. One depicts a schoolteacher fretting to his principal about the mandate that he’ll have to introduce the concept in the classroom: “Just don’t call it marriage, and confuse a kid with a social dynamic that they can’t possibly understand.”
That ad, by the way, spelled out another theme of the campaign, that the failure of Proposition 8 would introduce a new level of government coercion. The teacher ad came complete with ominous music as the principal explained that “our hands are tied here.”
Another ad featured a little girl interrogating her gay fathers about where babies come from if not from a mommy and a daddy, as they shift uncomfortably in their seats trying to conjure up an answer. A third ad featured Pepperdine University law professor Richard Peterson warning that “second graders” would have to be taught that “boys could marry boys.” (Pepperdine objected to being named in the ad, but the sponsors refused to remove the identification.)
As Stern observes, “The campaign’s strategy was to debase gay families as deviant and unhealthy while insinuating that gay people are engaged in a full-scale campaign to convert children to their cause."
This is the campaign to which Eich contributed. It’s proper to note that his two donations of $500 each came on Oct. 25 and 28, days before the Nov. 4 vote and well after the style of the TV campaign was established.
That’s just one of the sidelights of the Brendan Eich affair that’s worth pondering. Another point is that it’s not necessarily correct to state that the ballot results demonstrate that “a majority of Californians” shared Eich’s anti-gay marriage position in 2008, and therefore that he’s being ousted for holding a mainstream view in 2008.
Proposition 8 passed 52%-48%, supported by 7 million voters out of the 23.2 million Californians eligible to vote. That means 30% of eligible voters backed the measure. Make of those figures what you will, but exit polls at the time indicated that the turnout in support of Prop 8 was spurred in part by exhortations from the pulpits of many churches, not least the Mormon Church, which played a heavy role in turning out Proposition 8 canvassers and donors.
In any event, Eich did more than harbor this viewpoint. He backed it with money, and he has not given any indication that he regrets doing so.