Jeff Bezos, founder of the online superstore Amazon.com as well as the aerospace company Blue Origin, and his wife MacKenzie have pledged to donate $2.5 million to give Washington State’s same sex marriage referendum a fighting chance in November’s election. The size of the donation puts them firmly in the ranks of the largest financial backers of gay marriage in the nation.
Referendum 74 would legalize same-sex marriage and put to rest any opposition to the state law now in effect. The law, championed by Democratic Gov. Christine Gregoire, passed by the Legislature earlier this year. Opponents of the legislation gathered enough signatures to have the matter put before the voters on the November ballot. Since gay marriage has become a hot button issue in this country, large money interests have put 32 measures on state ballots and in almost every case, marriage equality found itself rejected by the voters.
Opponents of the law are working to raise as much as $4 million to overturn the legislation, while the backers have pledged to raise a minimum of $8 million. The Bezos gift immediately doubled the funds at their disposal.
The Bezos are not the first high-profile heterosexuals to contribute to the cause of marriage equality. Bill Gates and Steven A. Ballmer of Microsoft have each contributed $100,000 to the campaign but the Bezos’ contribution has raised the standard in the battle to recognize marriage equality.
Washington United for Marriage’s (WUM) campaign manager, Zach Silk, stated in an interview on Thursday:
“The extraordinary contribution from Jeff and MacKenzie Bezos will make an enormous difference for our campaign to defend Washington’s marriage law. While it provides an amazing base for the work ahead, we hope it spurs others to invest because we’re a long way from November and we face opponents with deep pockets who are committed to spending millions to defeat us.”
The gift provoked an immediate reaction from the Preserve Marriage Washington website in a call for ‘sacrificial’ contributions:
“You and I cannot sit by and watch as marriage is redefined—will you rise up and help us preserve marriage in Washington by giving sacrificially right now? The stakes could not be higher in this race….If activists get their way in Washington, marriage will be a genderless institution, and our children and grandchildren will be the ones who suffer.”
The Bezos have declined interviews regarding the gift but the impetus for their action can be laid at the feet of Jennifer Cast, one of Amazon’s earliest employees, having started with the company when there were only a few dozen employees. She left the company in 2001. On Sunday evening, Ms. Cast, 50, a lesbian mother of four children and now a fundraising chairwoman for WUM sent an email to Mr. Bezos. She wrote:
“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. 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.”
She ended the email with a request that he give between $100,000 and $200,000 to the campaign.
Two days later she received the following reply:
“Jen, this is so right for so many reasons. We’re in for $2.5 million. Jeff & MacKenzie”
Ms. Cast, who says she never once discussed the issue of gay marriage with Mr. Bezos found herself stunned by the amount of the gift.
“I am thrilled by Jeff and MacKenzie’s staggeringly generous donation. Their support of our effort to approve R74 comes at an important time and will have great impact. I am deeply grateful to both of them as this donation is going to help us make history.”
Ann Werner is a blogger and the author of two thrillers and two works of non-fiction. You can view her work at ARK Stories