Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and his wife, MacKenzie, announced today that they had donated $2.5 million to the Washington United for Marriage campaign to defend Washington's same-sex marriage law.
With their donation, the Bezos' became one of "the largest financial backers of gay marriage rights in the country," said the New York Times. Meaning that the Washington United for Marriage (WUM) coalition has now raised more than $5 million for its referendum campaign.
WUM, a Political Action Committee (PAC) and a 501(c)(4) nonprofit organization formed in October 2011, is a coalition of organizations, congregations, unions, and businesses working together to defend civil marriage for same-sex couples.
As the proponents of Referendum 74, WUM hopes to legalize same-sex marriage in Washington state by affirming a landmark marriage equality bill that passed the Legislature on February 13, 2012. Since its passage, six other states have declared gay marriage legal, but R74 has never succeeded in elections held nationally.
Now WUM is hoping with the Bezos' donation, that will all change.
"The extraordinary contribution from Jeff and MacKenzie Bezos will make an enormous difference for our campaign to defend Washington’s marriage law," said WUM’s campaign manager, Zach Silk in a press release. "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."
According to the Seattle Times, "Amazon publicly supported the law earlier this year, along with other prominent Pacific Northwest businesses, including Microsoft, Starbucks Corp. and Nike Inc." Last month they added, "Microsoft Corp. CEO Steve Ballmer and co-founder Bill Gates each donated $100,000 to support the law."
The same-sex marriage law supported by Democratic Gov. Christine Gregoire, was supposed to take effect June 7 but has been put on hold pending the November vote after gay marriage opponents, Preserve Marriage Washington, gathered and submitted 240,000 signatures, pushing the legislation to a vote. The organization believes that if the law passes, "Marriage will be redefined for everyone."
Joseph Backholm, chairman of Preserve Marriage Washington, told the Seattle Times, "that while he was surprised by the size of the donation, his campaign has always expected that it would be outspent by gay marriage supporters." Still, he said, "We're optimistic about what's going to happen in the end," he said. "Jeff Bezos gets to vote just one time like everyone else in state. That's the great equalizer."
When it comes to the ballot box, same-sex marriage issues have never fared well. According to the LA Times, "voters have rejected such measures in all 32 states where they've been on the ballot." This fall, voters in Washington, Maine, Minnesota and Maryland will directly tackle the issue of gay marriage.
Washington and Maryland, who have passed same-sex marriage laws, will ask voters "to confirm or veto them" said the Times. Meanwhile, Maine voters will be asked to decide whether to approve same-sex marriage via an initiative. In Minnesota however, voters will have to decide whether to approve a constitutional ban on gay marriage.
But WUM remains optimistic for Washington in light of the Bezos' generous donation. As the volunteer finance co-chair who has spent over seven years in various senior positions at Amazon, Jennifer Cast said:
I am thrilled by Jeff and MacKenzie’s staggeringly generous donation. Their support of our efforts to approve Referendum 74 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.