Although same sex marriage was legalized in Washington by the state’s legislature back in February, opponents of the new law were able to get a referendum on the ballet to put the matter before voters and were raising considerably more cash than pro-gay rights groups. Were being the operative word, Via The New York Times:
Jeff Bezos, the billionaire founder of Amazon.com, and his wife, MacKenzie, have agreed to donate $2.5 million to help pass a same-sex marriage referendum in Washington State, instantly becoming among the largest financial backers of gay marriage rights in the country.
With the gift, the couple have doubled the money available to the proponents of Referendum 74, which would legalize same-sex marriage in the state by affirming a law that passed the Legislature this year. Courts or lawmakers have declared gay marriage legal in six other states, but backers of such measures have never succeeded at the ballot box.
Proponents of the effort in Washington State called it a game-changing gift that gives them a fighting chance in November.
“To get this from a straight, married couple sends a powerful message that marriage is seen as a fundamental question of fairness,” Zach Silk, the campaign manager for Washington United for Marriage, said Thursday in an interview.
Mr. Bezos, who founded Amazon.com in 1994 in Seattle and remains its president, now tops a growing list of heterosexual business executives who are replacing wealthy gay people as the some of the biggest donors to the movement behind same-sex marriage and equality for gay men and lesbians. Bill Gates and Steven A. Ballmer of Microsoft each gave $100,000 to the referendum campaign, according to its officials.
But with the seven-figure gift, Mr. Bezos — a famously private executive who runs a $48 billion-a-year retail empire — has now set the bar even higher.
How this came about is interesting: On Sunday, Jennifer Cast, a mother of four children, one of Amazon’s very first hires—and a lesbian—wrote a very personal email to Mr. Bezos pointedly hitting up her former boss for between $100,000 and $200,000 to fight the referendum.
“I want to have the right to marry the love of my life and to let my children and grandchildren know their family is honored like a ‘real’ family,” Ms. Cast wrote. “We need help from straight people. To be very frank, we need help from wealthy straight people who care about us and who want to help us win.”
In an interview on Thursday night, Ms. Cast said she had no idea how Mr. Bezos would respond. Though she had worked closely with him when Amazon had only a few dozen employees, she left the company in 2001 and said she had never talked about same-sex marriage with him.
“We were chatting about the biz. We weren’t chatting about our lives,” she said, recalling her time at the company. “I never, ever in my life talked to him about gay marriage.”
It took Bezos two days to reply:
“Jen,” the e-mail said, “this is right for so many reasons. We’re in for $2.5 million. Jeff & MacKenzie.”
Right on, Jeff Bezos, and well done Jennifer Cast!