Silicon Valley, Prop 8, and the perils of boycott

As recriminations and talk of boycotts fly in the wake of the passage of California's Proposition 8, tech industries are turning up on both sides of the issue -- and technology may yet help focus further efforts.

Proposition 8 would amend California's constitution to state that the only marriages to be recognized in that state are between a man and a woman. Though it has not yet been officially ratified as votes await state certification on December 13, with over 96% of the vote currently tallied, 52.5% of respondents voted Yes. This despite active opposition from even California's Republican governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The legislation was strongly supported by the Utah-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints -- the Mormons. As a result, many angry post-election calls for boycott are aimed at Mormon-connected or that happen to be headquartered in Utah, such as Novell, Iomega, and Priceline.com. (Such boycott talk is by no means originating from "official" sources.)

Silicon Valley's leading lights mainly spoke out against the measure. Apple donated $100,000 to the effort to defeat Prop 8; Time Warner and Comcast each ponied up $50,000. Both Jerry Yang and David Filo of Yahoo spoke out against it, as did Google's Sergey Brin and Eric Schmidt. And in a full-page ad in the San Jose Mercury News, a Who's Who of 50-some tech execs (including a few one would be hard-pressed to imagine agreeing on much of anything else) implored the people of the state to vote against the would-be amendment. (The ad appeared, interestingly enough, about a week after reports emerged that Yes on 8 letter writers were threatening to "out" companies that donated to No on 8 efforts.)

Even after the December 13 certification, court challenges are apt to tie the amendment up for some time; and in an interview on CNN's "Late Edition" with correspondent John King last Sunday, Gov. Schwarzenegger said he believed the courts may have the last say.

Any would-be boycott list, composed in the heat of the moment, is apt to have a few inconsistencies. For instance, some would-be boycotters are calling for eBay to be included in the roster. But both eBay founder and chairman Pierre Omidyar, former eBay president Jeff Skoll, director of government affairs Todd Cohen, and former eBay exec Steve Westly came out firmly against Prop. 8, listing their names in the big tech-exec ad.

But a genuine effort at figuring out boycott targets could, however, be aided by -- what else? -- technology. A full list of committees formed to support or oppose Prop. 8 is available from the California Secretary of State's office; clicking on any of the committee names allows one to see the individuals and corporations donating to each of those committees -- bringing all relevant affiliations into the light of public scrutiny.

Clearly the debate on 8 isn't finished, but it would be refreshing to see responses to the situation framed with facts in hand.


[BetaNews' Scott Fulton contributed additional information to this report.]

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