In response to an email plea from one of his first employees, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and his wife MacKenzie pledged to contribute $2.5 million in the fight to retain same sex marriage rights in Washington State.
Last February, Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire signed the marriage equality bill in an emotional ceremony. Two rival groups of marriage opponents immediately tried to collect enough signatures to put an initiative on the ballot to repeal the law—one failed. However, in June religious activists collected enough signatures to force the question onto the November ballot. Referendum 74 asks voters to approve or reject the marriage equality law. If approved, Washington officially becomes the sixth state, plus the District of Columbia, to recognize gay marriages.
“To get this [pledge] 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, told the New York Times Thursday.
Microsoft’s Bill Gates and Steven A. Ballmer have already donated $100,000 to the referendum campaign, the Times reports. But the historic pledge from Bezos, who runs a $48 billion-a-year retail empire, is considered a game-changer.
And the money is much needed, especially considering the cost of TV air time during this election year. Washington United for Marriage needs to explain why it is important to keep marriage equality in the state—they have not yet noted, for instance, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s announcement on Monday, July 24, the one year anniversary of the Marriage Equality Act, that same sex marriages have equality generated an estimated $259 million in economic impact and $16 million in city revenues. AND they need to explain HOW to vote to retain marriage—that is a vote to APPROVE or yes on Referendum 74.
Meanwhile, the opposition is lead by Preserve Marriage Washington, which says on their website that “the definition of marriage in Washington is under attack” and that “if this law goes unchallenged, voters would have no say and marriage would be changed for every person in our state from being the union of one man and one woman to being a genderless institution.”
But in this instance, a simple note confounded that outdated sentiment. From the Times:
Mr. Bezos was approached via e-mail on Sunday by Jennifer Cast, one of Amazon’s earliest employees and a lesbian mother of four children who is now a fund-raising chairwoman of the pro-referendum effort.
In her e-mail, sent Sunday evening, Ms. Cast, 50, implored Mr. Bezos to understand the importance of the issue to her and her longtime partner.
“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.”
In the e-mail, Ms. Cast described in detail the pain she endured as a young adult and the difficulties she faced publicly acknowledging her sexuality. At the end, she pointedly asked him to donate between $100,000 and $200,000 to the referendum cause.
“Jeff, I suspect you support marriage equality,” she wrote. “I beg you not to sit on the sidelines and hope the vote goes our way. Help us make it so.”
She hit “send” and waited.
Two days later, on Tuesday, she received a reply while in a car with her family. Recalling that moment, she said she had to read it out loud twice to make sure she had read it right.
“Jen,” the e-mail said, “this is right for so many reasons. We’re in for $2.5 million. Jeff & MacKenzie.”
“I am thrilled by Jeff and MacKenzie’s staggeringly generous donation,” said Cast said in a press release. “Their support of our efforts 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.”
“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. “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.”
Some of those deep pockets belong to the National Organization for Marriage, as blogger Laurel Ramseyer has pointed out on Pam’s House Blend on Firedoglake. She has also blogged extensively about NOM’s unsuccessful efforts to keep the names of their petition signers secret.
NOM has also unsuccessfully pushed for a boycott of Starbucks. From The Stranger last March:
“There has been an incredible Facebook campaign of photos of people drinking coffee at Starbucks,” says Equal Rights Washington’s Josh Friedes. “In some ways, NOM did our work for us. They are highlighting the fact that major corporations based in Washington State are supporting marriage equality and that an out-of-state, anti-gay organization is spearheading the movement to derail it.”
But, as Andy Towle reported at the time, the backlash against NOM generated some creativity among straight allies—including this ode to Starbucks by the Goodriches, who write, on their YouTube page:
After hearing about some backlash that Starbucks has been getting for coming out with their support of same-sex marriage, my wife Cory Goodrich, dusted off an old song she wrote about Starbucks, while sleep deprived from having a new baby and drinking lots of Starbucks coffee. She recorded it, and I decided to do a video. We hope to spread the spirit of equality and dignity that Starbucks openly supports.
I also support boycotting and standing up for what you believe in. It is the only American right left practically. But I believe that companies like Starbucks, Google, Boeing, Microsoft and Nike should be commended and supported for their efforts for equal rights for all, not just the ones you like. “All men are created equal,” leaves no one out.
Let’s see how NOM attempts to boycott Amazon. The Bezos $2.5 million pledge may well inspire more odes, if not pledges to shop at Amazon.com more often. And perhaps more donors will contribute now to preserve, defend or prevent anti-gay measures in four OTHER battleground states through Freedom to Marry’s Win More States campaign.