The biggest names in technology have normally been unflinching champions for the rights of same-sex couples. Yet, they were conspicuously silent this week as the Senate rejected the right for American same-sex couples to petition for visas for their foreign-born partners.
“I take the Republican sponsors of this important legislation at their word that they will abandon their own efforts if discrimination is removed from our immigration system,” said Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy after pulling a provision for foreign-born gay partners after Republicans threatened to abandon support for the fragile comprehensive immigration reform bill.
High-skilled immigration reform has been priority No. 1 for leaders in the technology industry who have aggressively lobbied for more immigrant scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs. Despite near unanimous support for more high-skilled immigrants, disagreements over border security, undocumented workers, and (now) gay rights have threatened reform for any part of the immigration system.
“I’m a politician. That means I have chosen my life’s work in the constraints of the system to accomplish as much good as I can. I accept the tough choices, the painful but necessary imperfection of compromise, which is a part of our system of government,” admitted Senator Chuck Schumer, who voted for the compromised draft in the influential Judiciary Committee, which is charged with crafting the law.
But, the battle for immigration reform is far from over and the technology community still has time to prove it’s morally strong enough not to sacrifice the rights of one group for another.
In the past, they’ve been big supporters of same-sex rights. Apple, Facebook, and a laundry list of other companies sent an unequivocal affidavit to the Supreme Court on why gay rights are essential to competing in a global economy, where many of our national competitors are more supportive of their gay employees.
Google, almost every year, unleashes a full-fledged social media campaign to stoke grassroots support of state amendments legalizing same-sex marriage (watch one adorable video below).
Indeed, the temptation to compromise on civil rights progress is not new to the United States. In the 19th century, abolitionist and feminist leaders erupted in vicious internal struggles over whether black abolitionists should also support female equality at the risk of their own causes. Eventually, black rights hero Frederick Douglass was persuaded by icononic feminist, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, that we should not choose between the rights of groups for political expediency.
“I have never yet been able to find one consideration, one argument, or suggestion in favor of man’s right to participate in civil government which did not equally apply to the right of woman,” Douglass said, after years of debate.
The 21st century civil rights struggles face the same dilemma. If supporters claim to the be on the “right side of history”, then we should recognize that well-intentioned piecemeal civil rights for political expediency has historically been the most biting form of bigotry.
The tech community I know and love is not a culture of moral compromisers. This is your moment. Speak up.