One of the most highly valued rights given us by our constitution is that of free speech. Many a battle has been waged to defend it and many legal cases have been won on its merits. However, recent events could lead us all to wonder if our right to express a differing belief or opinion could be at risk, and how this could happen.
The support for gay marriage has grown rapidly in recent years. In 1996 the U.S. Congress passed, and Bill Clinton signed, the (DOMA) Defense of Marriage Act, defining marriage as a union that exists solely between a man and a woman. It was not until 2012 that President Obama came out in favor of same sex marriage- which then led other prominent leaders and citizens to endorse it.
Fast forward to the present and same-sex couples can be legally married in seventeen states and the District of Columbia. Thirty-three states have restrictions against gay marriage, but their numbers are expected to rapidly decrease. In June 2013, the Supreme Court struck down a key part of DOMA when it declared that gay couples that are married in states where it is legal must receive the same benefits that heterosexual couples receive. Most significant is a 2014 poll that found that 59% of Americans now support same sex unions. There is a sea change in favor of this right and it’s clear there is no turning back.
So all this must mean that we are becoming a much more tolerant and open society, right? Recent events suggest that it depends on what side of the issue someone is standing on- the popular one or that of dissenter. The very recent case of Brendan Eich is a stunning example of what is happening. Only two weeks after becoming chief executive of Mozilla he resigned under duress. His opposition to gay marriage stirred up a firestorm among employees and customers who threatened walk-outs and boycotts. The climate made it impossible for him to be effective in the position so he stepped down.
It’s hard to take any message but one away from this-don’t express an unpopular or politically incorrect belief or you could suffer serious consequences. If this continues, free speech could become an endangered right as those who can’t tolerate dissent are seen as on the right side and everyone else- well, you know. Where this could lead is anybody’s guess- just make sure if you hold an unpopular belief you keep it to yourself. Your career and social standing could depend on it.